Yesterday evening, a 49-year-old woman in Oakland, California was shot and killed by a stray bullet while walking to the store, marking the city’s 124th homicide of 2012. Thus far, a google news search of “Oakland woman shot” has produced just four articles about this particular shooting.
As I wrote earlier this week, the media usually pays little, if any, attention to gun violence in what Susie Cagle has dubbed “urban sacrifice zones“, despite shootings taking place with disturbing regularity. In stark contrast, the media obsesses over increasingly frequent suburban mass shootings. That’s not to say that massacres in the suburbs shouldn’t garner airtime, they certainly should. But the disparity between suburban vs. urban gun violence—or to put it more bluntly, middle class white vs. poor brown and black gun violence—implies that shootings are only important when white suburbanites are affected.
This mentality is reflected in most of the Newtown massacre coverage. For example, one CNN article opens with the question, “How could it happen here?”, with “here” being Newtown, described as “a picture-perfect country town with good schools, quiet streets and a strong sense of community.” It’s as if people are more shocked by where the massacre took place than by the massacre itself, suggesting that it’s okay when gun violence happens where we expect it to happen, in poor urban settings. How else do we explain the media’s routine silence over the staggering homicide rates in the nation’s inner-cities?
Last night four people were shot in three separate shootings across Philadelphia that spanned just one hour. The Philadelphia Police Department counts 321 homicides in the city as of today, December 20.
Out of control gun violence in Chicago has led to nearly 500 homicides this year (487 as of December 9 according to the Chicago Police Department). Shootings are so routine, they often go unnoticed outside the local media. In fact, the morning after the Sandy Hook massacre, a Chicago Tribune headline read, “10 shot, including 4 teens, Friday afternoon and night.” That comes on top of 8 killed and 30 wounded by gunfire in the first weekend of December. The media’s lack of interest isn’t new. During the the Empire State Building shooting in August, which dominated national headlines, I noted the media’s stunning silence over the 19 people shot in Chicago the night before, 13 of them in just 30 minutes.
I wonder what the mainstream’s response might be if a predominantly white, middle class suburb marked its 124th homicide of the year, or suffered frequent spates of weekend shootings. Would they pay more attention to the damaging consequences of policies pushed by the gun lobby?
The children horrifically slaughtered at Sandy Hook have rightly elicited endless media coverage, sparking a once unimaginable conversation about gun control, even among typically pro-gun lawmakers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m relieved gun control is finally a serious topic of discussion. But why do 20 suburban school children have to be slaughtered for the media and lawmakers to examine the implications of lax gun laws?
In an article published today, Pulitzer prize winning journalist Trymaine Lee details how the gun lobby has successfully undermined efforts to minimize gun violence in cities like Chicago in recent years.
In the years to come there would be challenges to the city’s gun ban. And in 2008 the Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., saying it violated residents’ Second Amendment rights. The ruling opened the door for a challenge in Chicago…In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the city’s handgun ban was unconstitutional. New, extremely restrictive laws were crafted to allow residents to legally own handguns.
And, just last week, a federal appeals court tossed the state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons. The state had been the only one in the nation with a concealed carry ban. It now has 180 days to craft concealed carry legislation.
“I have fought this industry time and again,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters recently. The city has vowed to keep fighting.
“This ruling came out approximately a week before this incident, this unfortunate incident,” said Tom VandenBerk, CEO of UCAN, the Chicago youth advocacy organization, of the recent concealed carry ruling and the Newtown massacre. The ruling is a setback to anti-gun groups and a victory for the gun industry and groups like the NRA, who VandenBerk says has pushed their pro-gun agenda in cities already reeling from gun violence.
“Our rights, our freedom, our rights and our freedom, that’s always the reaction you get from them,” he said of the pro-gun lobby. “There’s almost never any sympathy or understanding, and I think there’s a bit of a racist thing happening. They say, those kids in Chicago are just killing each other, they’re just gang bangers.”
But the mostly black and Latino youth dying by the gun aren’t the only ones being impacted, Vandenberk said. He said that in rural downstate Illinois there’s a real epidemic among “white kids committing suicide” because of the availability of guns.
There’s nothing worse than agreeing with Rahm Emanuel, but the gun lobby has driven me to it with their dangerous desire to flood neighborhoods plagued by gun violence with more guns. The only thing that might rival the ridiculousness of the “add more guns to the problem” rhetoric is if the gun lobby pretended it was for the sake of minority communities instead of their selfish obsession with guns. Shamefully, that’s the argument they went for:
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said there is no racial component to the fight over the Second Amendment or over the concealed carry laws.
“If you pass concealed carry, the first groups that are helped by this are minority women, the elderly and disabled people,” Pearson said. “We have a lot of black and Latino members who want concealed carry, that’s just a red herring…They’re all liars,” he said of the so-called liberal anti-gun set.
I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the ISRA’s statement on the Sandy Hook massacre, in which they lambast “Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the rest of the political opportunists who have swooped down on Newtown like a flock of vultures hungry to devour the 2nd Amendment.” The statement refers to them as “gun control extremists.”
Perhaps those advocating for common sense gun laws, like background checks and bans on semiautomatics, are extremists in the eyes of people far removed from the daily reality of urban gun violence. But media elites and lawmakers enable this ignorance by failing to address the gun issue when the effects aren’t being felt by people who look and live like them. It’s not until the consequences of lax gun laws hit close to home that the gun lobby’s stranglehold over lawmakers elicits scrutiny.
Meanwhile, even with gun control at the forefront, the children in our “urban sacrifice zones” are nothing more than background statistics, with the main character being the predominately white victims of the latest mass shooting.
Following the massacre in Aurora, Colorado over the summer, Cord Jefferson wrote the following and it stuck with me:
Maybe if everyone killed annually by guns in Chicago was executed at the same time on Wrigley Field, the world might decide to pay attention. Life, for whatever reason, seems to be valued more when a lot of it is snatched away unfairly all at once. Also possible, and far more chilling, is that maybe people don’t think it’s so unfair for young black people to get killed in Chicago’s ghettoes.
What message are we sending to black victims of gun violence when their deaths alone aren’t enough to provoke a response?