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Everyone’s talking about the tragic massacre that happened in Newtown, CT the morning of December 14th at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A young man, aged 20, murdered his mother at their family home and then entered the primary school with three firearms: a semi-automatic rifle and two pistols, spraying what police say was about 100 rounds of ammunition, killing 20 students (all aged 6 or 7) and six female school personnel.
Everyone, in the midst of their tears, heartbreak, and empathy for the victims and their families, is asking why? Why an elementary school? Why these children? Why would anyone think to commit such heinous crimes? Who was this young man? What was he like? Was he mentally ill? What could have been done to prevent this? What were the red flags? As over 20 families mourn the loss of their loved ones – many of them innocent children with their whole lives ahead of them – we broach the issue, yet again, of gun control, deeming it the panacea for the problem.
Yes, we can talk about gun control all day long, but until we get to the root of the problem, we will just be talking in circles.
What everyone isn’t talking about is the fact that gun control is but one slice of the complicated pie that helped create this and other similar tragedies in the first place. Not only do we live in a culture that glorifies violence, but we also live in a laissez-faire society that, unless it happens on our very own front lawns, many of us are unmoved by tragedies and devastation to a point of meaningful action. We collectively ignore the social ills that allow tragedies like this to occur, like making it safe for people with mental illness to seek and receive help and support. It has to happen in places like Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown in order for the country to stand up and pay (brief) attention and call for change.
What everyone isn’t talking about is the fact that while he may have been disturbed, the 20 year old shooter, from the affluent Newtown, CT, likely didn’t have to grow up experiencing some of the trauma that others experience on a daily basis. This is not to diminish the issue of mental health and how very real that is for anyone suffering from psychosis, but I can’t help but think about how so many young men of color are labeled as criminals and delinquents and filtered into failure before they can even really have a fighting chance. Many of these young men (and women) often don’t have the luxury of having official mental health diagnoses/screenings and clinical terms to describe, justify or even make sense of their behavior.
What we’re not saying is that this 20-year-old man was a domestic terrorist wreaking havoc on a community that thought it was “safe.” Add to that the fact that this devastating situation is being framed in the mainstream media in a very particular way, namely through race and class. The young man who committed these murders is being described as a “bright” and “painfully awkward” boy with Asperger’s disease. He grew up in an affluent community that mistakenly believed mass murders could not or did not happen in Newtown, CT. But that’s the problem. The very denial that it could is just as disturbing as the very act of murder itself. Instead, the Sandy Hook murders are reduced to the action of one individual, a disturbed deviant, with no one taking responsibility, while something like this – had it happened in a non-affluent, non-white area – would have been the responsibility of the ENTIRE community and an inherent, dysfunctional quality of poor people and people of color. Because, you see, if things like this were tied to flawed social structures instead of disturbed individuals, we would then bear the responsibility of having to the change the structure instead of blaming a group of hopeless, primitive individuals.
What everyone isn’t talking about are how the deaths of young men and women on the streets of Chicago, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan are impacting the lives of families daily. The silence on that issue is almost deafening. The mainstream media isn’t discussing the fact that there were 10 people wounded from shootings in Chicago: the very same weekend of the Newtown murders. Mass shootings like the one in Newtown, CT, are a rarity, while homicides and other gun-related violence on the streets of some of our inner cities is just a way of life. We aren’t connecting the fact that poverty, lack of quality education, and access to valuable resources could improve the conditions in these areas and prevent some of the violence that increases the body counts and murder rates every single day. Where are their voices? Where are their stories?