Panem et Circenses et Homicidia et Ignorantia

The United States of bread and circuses and homicides and ignorance.

stadium
Allegiant Stadium [Photo courtesy City of Las Vegas]

The Super Bowl of some Roman numeral was held on February 11 in Las Vegas, where four years ago, a deranged white guy fired more than 1,000 high-velocity rounds into a crowd of concert fans, killing 60 and wounding 413.

The shooter was in keeping with sorry fact that most mass shooters are white.

The Super Bowl was held in a stadium that cost $1.9 billion to build but will bring $1.9 trillion in new spending to Las Vegas every single day.

Okay, that was a wild exaggeration, but so are the official estimates of the return on investment of new stadiums (and convention centers and downtown redevelopment and gentrification).

The new stadium in Las Vegas is the home of the Raiders, a team that relocated to Las Vegas from Oakland, California, a city that is so dangerous in certain areas that employers advise their employees not to go out for lunch and to be accompanied by a security guard when they walk to their car after work.

With few exceptions, team owners and their players are no more loyal to a host city than a lady of the evening is loyal to a john. Dangle enough money in front of the teams and players, and they’ll sashay on their Nike stilettos to the next city.

Kansas City residents turned out en masse to celebrate their team winning the Super Bowl. Gunfire erupted, as it does almost every day in Kansas City, as well as in many other American cities. One woman was killed and 21 people were injured, including 11 children.

I was born and raised on the other side of the State of Missouri in St. Louis, which ranks near the top nationally in murder and other violent crime. That ranking is somewhat misleading, though, because most of the crime occurs in the City of St. Louis, which accounts for only 10 percent of the population of the metro area. Still, it’s a tragic and unacceptable statistic.

But, hey, the St. Louis Cardinals are a great baseball team and play in a dandy stadium in downtown St. Louis.

Kansas City accounts for 23 percent of the population of its metro area. The city’s crime statistics are abysmal. Neighborhood Scout gives the city a crime rating of 1, which means that 99 percent of cities are safer. There is a 1 in 67 chance of being a victim of violent crime in the city.

Must be due to poverty, right? You tell me. Kansas City’s poverty rate is 14.9%, which is only 3.1 percentage points above the rate in Portland, Maine, a city that is considered one of the safest in the country. There is a 1 in 543 chance of being a victim of a violent crime in Portland, versus a 1 in 67 chance in Kansas City. Are we to believe that a 3.1 percentage-point difference in poverty results in an eight-fold increase in the chance of being a victim of a violent crime?

The poverty rate depends on how poverty is measured. It is typically measured by earned income. But if it is measured by earned income plus transfer payments (welfare, entitlements and tax credits), the bottom fifth of Americans have more income than the next fifth and nearly as much as the fifth after that, a fifth that is considered the middle class. I have no idea how Kansas City and Portland compare in poverty according to the expanded measure.

Of course, racial demographics are very different between Portland and Kansas City, but talking about race in America is fraught with so many possible misunderstandings and accusations of racism that I would need to write 10,000 words on the subject to make all of the necessary caveats in order to avoid being misunderstood and called names.

Perhaps the problem is that Kansas City doesn’t spend enough money on public education and needs smaller class sizes. To test that hypothesis, let’s look at the city’s Center 58 School District, which has 2,524 students, according to Neighborhood Scout. The district has a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:11, and it spends $22,162 per student per year.

In spite of this spending, only 26 percent of students are proficient in reading, and only 16 percent in math.

Some courageous social scientists are willing to broach a taboo subject to explain the root cause of high crime and low grades in Kansas City, St. Louis, and many other cities. They say that the cause is not poverty or race, per se, but, instead, a high percentage of single-parent families, especially families where fathers are absent. This particularly affects boys, who, in the absence of a father, look to gangs as role models.

Data on single-parent families aren’t granular enough at the city level to test the hypothesis with confidence for Kansas City and other cities, but there are enough data at the national level.

Some people put the blame for violence on the availability of guns, other people put the blame on cultural rot, and still others on racism, income inequality, drugs, insufficient policing, too much policing, border policies, Biden, or Trump.

It could be that all of the foregoing are symptoms of a deeper problem of misplaced priorities, a problem that is reflected in spending on sports palaces while the national government and Americans are mired in debt.

Or it could be that the problem is in our head. Becoming desensitized, we now accept the abnormal as normal—that violent crime, poor grades, and broken families are the new norm and irreversible. At the same time, we’ve lost faith in government and have become divided by politics, race, ethnicity, and class.

No wonder we’ve resorted to escapism and denial. As we drive to a sports palace through the dystopia of an inner city in our expensive, hermetically-sealed cocoon, we’ve learned to not notice the homeless people living and dying on the street like animals, the beggars on street corners, the security bars and cameras on buildings, and the widespread blight and seediness.

In other words, the United States has become a nation of panem et circenses et homicidia et ignorantia.

Mr. Cantoni resides in Tucson, Arizona, a city with high crime and poverty but fancy sports facilities at the University of Arizona. Contact: ccan2@aol.com or craigcantoni@gmail.com.

About Craig J. Cantoni 29 Articles
Community Activist Craig Cantoni strategizes on ways to make Tucson a better to live, work and play.