makes for deadly road rage
By James Alan Fox
Monday, August 15, 2005
Last week, while "saling" with my wife along the posh boutiques of Newbury Street, I witnessed yet another senseless episode of road rage. Actually, it was more a case of "parking rage," common in this part of town, as two irate motorists argued over temporary ownership of a metered space.
Unlike the recent road rage shootings in Brockton and Lynn, the Newbury Street parking dispute never made the pages of any newspaper. No one was injured, probably because neither combatant was armed with anything more lethal than a bejeweled puppy leash.
Of course, frustration and anger show no boundaries of class or neighborhood. All sorts of nice folks can lose it amidst rush hour competitions to get to work on time.
In the aftermath of tragedies like the Brockton shooting, we often hear reports about how out of character the behavior seemed. Described as ``a perfect neighbor,'' 60-year-old Walter Bishop allegedly rammed his Chevy Blazer into another SUV driven by Sandro Andrade. According to witnesses, the good neighbor then rolled down his window and repeatedly shot at Andrade as the 27-year-old victim clutched his baby daughter. The girl, while covered with the blood of her slain father, was unharmed.
How can we understand the apparently irrational acts of this well-liked grandfather? Attorney Kevin Reddington, known for his unsuccessful Prozac defense of workplace avenger Michael McDermott, plans to employ the same strategy here: Wellbutrin and Paxil were the culprits.
It is true that anti-depressants can serve as disinhibitors, producing anger-related side effects. But even if Paxil triggered Bishop's rage in the heat of that moment, what caused him to decide to equip his vehicle with a loaded weapon?
The same critical question applies to the Lynn incident in which Linda Umphrey, 52, and her teenage son Gregory were allegedly shot by William Green, a disabled Vietnam veteran. Could a post-traumatic stress defense be likely for this ex-Marine whose temperament is generally, according to one neighbor, considered ``cool and collected?'' That might be a convenient, even logical, explanation for the Lynnway shooting, but not for Green's decision, in a real sense, to ride shotgun. After all, this isn't Vietnam, or even Texas.
It is not difficult to understand why millions of nice guys become madmen behind the wheel. It has much to do with the anonymity and dehumanizing effect of the motorized metal capsules that encase us as we drive.
You never hear about ``sidewalk rage.'' When two pedestrians accidentally collide, they both say ``excuse me.'' But the same two people as motorists will typically blame the other even for near misses on the road. Without the eye-to-eye and face-to-face contact, the encounter is no longer mano against mano, but auto against auto.
Cocooned inside a Hummer or a Honda with the stereo blaring, stressed drivers can perceive the world outside their windshield like targets in The Simpson's Road Rage video game. Throw a gun into the mix and you've got Grand Theft Auto!
Why would Bishop, Green or most anyone need a gun to help him motor from place to place? I doubt that Bishop was on his way to hunt deer in downtown Brockton or that Green was guarding against a possible carjacking.
No matter how you feel about gun owners' rights and gun control, whether you see sport and self-protection as legitimate justifications for gun toting, hopefully we can all agree on one thing. When it comes to driving, "gunning it" should be about horsepower, not firepower.
James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Talk back at firstname.lastname@example.org.