Several recent articles published in the local press – including one about the Concord City Council requesting permission to apply for a Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle – quote individuals who seem to be confused about the important difference between general crime – which society always has to some degree – and terrorism.
Terrorism is a very specific term according to various US governmental agency documents as well as international conventions. The US Dept of State defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents.” (Title 22, Chapter 38, US Code). The US Department of Defense has a similar definition: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to instill fear and coerce governments or societies. Terrorism is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political.” (2010)
Even the USA Patriot Act, which specifically defines domestic terrorism, is clear that the violent act must “appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
Clearly, none of these definitions of terrorism include somebody drugged out with a shot gun, underage people drinking and getting rowdy, bank robbers, situations of violent domestic abuse, or large public events that need to be patrolled for public safety purposes. And yet such activities are increasingly being labeled “terrorist threats” and used as reasons for obtaining counter-terrorism equipment.
Yes, we do need a police force adequately prepared to meet emergencies. Yes, we want a safe city. But let’s be clear what exactly terrorism is and – more importantly – what it is not.
Some security experts distinguish between three different types and causes for crimes in society. The first is “typical” crimes such as those mentioned above. We will always have these types of crimes, and they need to be controlled. The second are “terrorist” crimes, of the type committed during September 11th, 2001 hundreds of miles away from Keene. The third are acts carried out due to “structural societal violence.”
“Structural societal violence” such as high levels of unemployment, increasing poverty, lack of access to mental health care when needed, etc. can and do cause some affected individuals to “break” and commit violent crimes. We have witnessed an increase in these types of crimes in recent years in the Monadnock area much more than we have experienced any kind of terrorist threat. Several unemployed people feeling desperate and alone have committed serious acts of violence when they lost all hope. And the best way to minimize these types of crimes is not through increased anti-terrorism hardware but through a two-pronged approach of (a) official policies and programs to support their needs and (b) compassionate and caring support for these individuals from all of us.