Crime headlines are wake-up call
Rape. Prostitution. Murder. The front page of the Aspen Daily News last Tuesday had it all. If we ever needed a wake-up call in the Roaring Fork Valley, this was it.The rapist was tried, convicted and sentenced to a 40-year-to-life term in state prison for the brutal beating and rape of a 21-year-old woman in the alley behind Little Annie’s in Aspen last July.The prostitution suspect was sentenced to one year of probation following her guilty plea last April for soliciting a 17-year-old Aspen girl to serve in a prostitution ring catering to a wealthy, anonymous clientele.The murder took place last Sunday at the Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs where the victim was gunned down after store hours and another employee was hit on the head with a shovel. It makes you want to lock the doors, pull the blinds and secure the home defense systems against – the news. Daily papers exult over sensational headlines that we no longer have to leave the valley to read. Now they’re home-grown.Crime is nothing new here, but lumped together on one page of a daily newspaper, it is more pronounced, more immediate. Last Tuesday’s front page should set off alarms in all of us. That newspaper was a distress call for a community in peril.Murders have happened here before, peaking perhaps with serial killer Ted Bundy’s slaying of Michigan nurse Caryn Campbell in Snowmass in 1975. We have a celebrity climate here that even includes mass murderers.Prostitution was a thriving trade during the silver mining boom in the 1880s and ’90s when a section of Ute Avenue along the base of Aspen Mountain was a notorious red-light district. Today’s prostitution is called an “escort service.”There have been rapes in the Roaring Fork valley, some reported, some not. Man’s inhumanity to women knows no bounds in an atmosphere of sexual conquest, violence and cosmetic enhancements and fashion trends designed to make women more alluring and desirable.Why make a point of the headlines last week? Because they are indicative of a society in decay. As one letter to the editor asked last week: “I wonder if the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire might be dated back to their first Food & Wine Classic.” Enter the Barbarian hoards.The Roaring Fork Valley is no Shangri-la. We have scoundrels, thieves, drug addicts, vandals, hooligans, road rage, bar fights, domestic violence and a litany of unpleasantness that we try to keep from our children. We are cruising the slippery slope of social malaise on the latest parabolic skis and snowboards. Welcome to the Triple-X-Games.As the realities of urban life overwhelm the once rural character of the valley, human corruption and malice find opportunity. Escalating criminal activity is not something we flavor our tourist brochures and Web sites with, but it’s real. Ask a cop, a social worker, a therapist.Part of the problem lies in the free-market philosophy of rapid growth and the vaunted cornucopia of extravagance. Champions of resort sprawl have bargained for profits at the cost of community stability and no amount of social decay will sway them from that pursuit.An itinerant labor force enabling, but alienated from, conspicuous consumption can become hostile and predatory to its host. Boomtown studies have revealed that rapid growth invites crimes of violence. Economic pressure fosters overworked, stressed out, desperate behavior.The changes have been cumulative. Gradually, Mister Rogers’ neighborhood has morphed into the mean streets where women are afraid to walk alone at night and must “buddy up,” as they are now advised to do in Basalt. Basalt!!Perhaps we thought this place was different from other parts of the world and that fear would never become part of our everyday lives. Now we confront fear as a lesson our children must learn as a means of survival.A Wal-Mart employee who saw his good friend murdered last week was quoted in the Aspen Times: “This is big city stuff. This is why I moved here from L.A., to get away from this kind of stuff.”
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