Argument-based Homicide in America
Feeling alienated by fellow classmates, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO who referred to themselves as the Trench Coat Mafia went on a rampant killing spree which took the lives of themselves, twelve other students and one teacher (Obmascik 1). This incident caused an immediate plea for more socially responsible communities, assuming that greater moral values would curb the likelihood of these argument-related homicides. This relies on the notion that greater social organization will lead to a decrease in the rate of crime. Dov Cohen, in her article “Culture, Social Organization, and Patterns of Violence” shows that in the West (which includes Colorado) and South, where a culture of honor persists, there is a higher rate of argument-related homicide that in other areas of the country (the North). More specifically, in the South and West, more organized societies have a higher rate of argument-related homicides than less stable ones.
Argument-related homicides are far more prevalent in the South and West than they are in the North (Cohen 412). This is not merely supported by the number of argument-related homicides in the given regions, but also by the beliefs within the cultures. Southerners and Westerners support honor-related violence more than Northerners and also react more aggressively when insulted (Cohen 408). In addition, laws in the South and West are more likely to support those who use violence consistent with honor (Cohen 409). For these reasons, it is hardly surprising that argument-related homicide is more common in these regional locations.
The more stable communities within these regions are more likely to be on the extreme sides. The morals ingrained in the more stable Northern communities do not find this behavior acceptable and argument-based homicide is therefore more common in less stable communities. The opposite is true in the South and West. The stronger communities condone these actions and they become more common than in those places that are morally more blase. Nevertheless, the most striking difference is the regional difference between the communities of the South and West and the communities of the North.
The correlation between the homicides in more stable and less stable communities for the given regions is striking. In the North, the homicide rate per 100,000 for white males ages 15-39 is 4.7 in a stable community and 6.7 in an unstable community (Cohen 412). In the South and West, however, the numbers are much higher. The homicide rate per 100,000 is 22.8 in a stable community and 18.3 in an unstable community (Cohen 412). While social organization is clearly a factor, the more marked distinction is based on region rather than social organization.
In the West and South, greater stability within a community would not have the effect of reducing argument-related homicides because increasing community stability seems to condone these actions, not only by sentiments, but by laws which make this type of crime more acceptable. For this reason it is not the communities who should be blamed, and the ability to point fingers at a lack of morals may be diminishing. By Cohen’s theory, the Columbine killings were not due to lax communal structure, but they were more a function of the region that it occurred, a region that represents a culture of honor. It may be that the Columbine killings were argument-based homicides, which were provoked rather than random, but the mere fact they exist at all is distressing. It is upsetting to think that certain cultures condone the beliefs that can lead to such atrocities. Homicide is simply unacceptable, no matter where one is from.
Cohen, Dov. “Culture, Social Organization, and Patterns of Violence.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1998, Vol. 75, No. 2. 408-419.
Obmascik, Mark. “Massacre at Columbine High: Bloodbath leaves 15 dead, 28 hurt.” The Denver Post. 21 April 1999.
Argument-based Homicide in America