With such horrific incidents proliferating, what has happened to us as a people? Is this really who we Americans have become?
Over the past few weeks, Facebook has become a window to the macabre.
In early January, four people in Chicago, who were black, were arrested for kidnapping an 18-year-old mentally ill white man and beating and torturing him in an anti-Trump fit while streaming it over Facebook Live. Police labeled the beatdown a hate crime.
Later in January, Nakia Venant, a 14-year-old from Miami who had been in and out of foster care, streamed her own suicide (via hanging) over Facebook Live.
Two months after that, back in Chicago, a gang of teen-aged thugs kidnapped and raped a 15-year-old girl, which was streamed over Facebook Live. Police say at least 40 people watched as it occurred but reported nothing.
On Sunday, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. was collecting aluminum cans in Cleveland when Steve W. Stephens, 37, approached him, asked him to repeat a woman's name and then shot him in cold blood after Godwin did so. Stephens recorded the incident and posted it to Facebook, and then logged onto Facebook Live to recount his attack. A nationwide manhunt for Stephens ended Tuesday when he killed himself in Pennsylvania.
Facebook has become a portal for some gruesome behavior where three distinctly American cultural traits converge: our historic tendency for violent behavior, our highly evolved media technology, and our promotion of exhibitionism and celebrity that causes narcissism to run rampant.
With such horrific incidents proliferating, what has happened to us as a people? Is this really who we Americans have become? Has the tool that, in one respect, was supposed to inform, entertain and perhaps unite us by expanding the reach of virtual community failed to maintain boundaries of decency, law-abiding behavior and respect for human dignity?
It would seem so. The Godwin case was likely inevitable in our current culture, and it makes one wonder what demented or ultraviolent, self-aggrandizing creep is lurking in the shadows to pull off something more demonic, more sensational.
Not so long ago, the print news media adhered to self-imposed restrictions on the reporting of suicides except in rare cases, so as to not induce copycats, or the publishing of images of dead bodies, in order to not shock or tantalize. With the advent and growth of social media, those days seem so innocent and quaint -- and gone forever.
We hope we as a society are better than this, and that these cases are outliers, and not models to be followed. Yet for some among us right now, the urge to be instantaneously famous, or infamous, on social media through criminal behavior seems a potent draw, and will remain so until the "better angels of our nature," as Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural address, overcome the wickedness residing in the hearts of some.