As a disclaimer: this is going to be another one of those unpopular posts. But again, it needs to be said.
Once again, a tragedy of epic proportion has devastated the country. So many young lives pointlessly taken. The perpetual conversation surrounding gun control keeping our minds dizzied.
At this point, I’m not interested in discussing the particulars of the tragic events from the past week, mental illness, gun control, or any of the other major themes surfacing from the recent shootings. Instead, what’s drawn my attention has been the seemingly self-centered expressions from some of the people in Newtown. Before I go any further, I will first state that my commentary in no way attempts to attack the victims. My heart goes out to the families, friends, and the entire community who are left with a massive and un-fillable void from the beautiful lives lost. I can’t begin to imagine the heartbreak they are feeling. And in spite of what you read next, my thoughts and prayers continue to be with Newton.
But as the story unfolded and the media took to interviewing Newtown residents, school employees, and other people affected by the tragedy, several telling quotes jumped out at me:
“Things like this don’t happen in our neighborhood.”
“These children deserved better. That’s why we moved here.”
“I would have never expected something like this to happen here.”
“It doesn’t seem possible. You have something happen so close to home…”
“This is our neighborhood. A place where everybody knows everybody. This doesn’t happen here. This isn’t some inner-city place.”
Hearing comments like those – while easy understand in a certain context – were still disturbing. A place with a median income of around $110,000 is expected to be a pretty safe place to live. I get that. Still, whether it was a Freudian slip or not, it seemed to suggest that violence is expected in certain places; but is of complete and utter shock when it happens within the confides of an otherwise safe, cozy, and antiseptic place like Newtown. Their concern regarding the tragedy appeared to be defined by how directly impacted they were. Oppositely, I’m reminded of all of my friends and family – urban dwellers, mostly – who all shared a collective sense of grief. None of us have ever been to Newtown, but our hearts and prayers were with them. We didn’t need a geographic or social tie to the area to connect with the victims. We just did.
Meanwhile, I wonder if Newtown and indeed, the country feels that way about the inner city (READ: the place where black folk dwell). As I cited before, big cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Philly are posting alarmingly high murder rates. My hometown of Flint is on pace to break its own record for murders in one year. But none of this has captured the country’s attention quite like the Newtowns, the Auroras, the Columbines, etc. I suspect this is the due to two things: first, violence in these areas take place over an extended period of time, rather than in one mass killing and secondly, the fact that most of those victims are African-Americans in urban areas.
The truth is, I was set to give up on any hope that the country would remember us ‘urban’ folk, until President Obama delivered the following remarks:
“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children.”
At that moment, a certain sense of relief fell on me; a relief that was a bit odd, given the tragedy which motivated the president’s speech in the first place. But for the first time in a long while, the narrative didn’t exclusively address Smalltown USA. The narrative included us. Admittedly, a shooting like Newtown immediately reels in the nation due to the horrific nature of event and the fact that 5-10 year olds were being killed. I mean, how could we not pay attention? But President Obama’s comments reminded us that for every Newtown, we have just as many urban victims of violence.
I guess at this point, I have nothing left to contribute to the conversation. Like most of the country, I wait with baited breath to see if the narrative about gun violence will translate into action of some sort. But at least for now, I can find solace in knowing that the leader of our country isn’t blind to what’s going on outside of Newtown. I can only hope and pray the rest of the country can follow suit.