Saturday, December 15, 2012

It Isn't About Newtown

I should be honest enough to say that title is a lie.  Because, as everyone knows, it is about Newtown.  Or, perhaps better - With the events yesterday in Newtown, I realized that silence equaled consent.  Not just in the bloody massacres at which we all stop and ask, "What have we become?" and everyone says they'll pray, and whoever is President will say a word or two, and then . . . the next one happens.  According to The Washington Post today, there have been thirteen such events just this year.  In fact, by the criteria of this report, there was yet another just today in Alabama.  Catch our breath?  Why even bother breathing?

But it isn't mass shootings.  They're the blockbuster of gun violence, big and gaudy, attracting all sorts of attention, enough to blind us to the steady drip of blood that is gun violence in America.  According to the CDC, in 2009 there were 11,493 gun-related deaths in the United States.  About 31 per day.  That's one and one-half Newtowns every single day.




Why don't we hear about it?  We do, though.  It's on the news, isn't it?  Just this summer, the city of Chicago saw a spike in homicides, with the city's four hundredth coming in late October.

If we faced a disease that killed an average of 31 Americans every day, we would be investing tens of millions if not billions of dollars searching for a cure, or at least effective treatment.  Facing the violent, gun-related deaths of 31 Americans every day we are told all sorts of things.  "Who could have known this would happen?", "This isn't the time to talk about gun control", "If a crazy person wants to kill people, that person will find a way to do it", on and on.  And on.

Why?  I think this article from The New Inquiry  gets at part of it:
I feel like sometimes it’s the bigness of the problem that scares us the most, and so a solution that feels practical becomes the only response we can imagine. But when people have guns to protect them from black people and the government, a black president is not going to have much luck trying to repeal the 2nd Amendment.  Especially when our response to a white guy shooting up a school is to tell people to be on the watch for “suspicious characters.” If there’s a solution, the law might be part of it, and the people who were demonstrating in front of the White House yesterday, good for them. I’d have joined them; I’m all for taxing the living shit out of anyone who wants to own a gun in a big city, for example. I’ll sign that petition, why the hell not. But as long as there’s a loophole, as long as some people are more animal, more killable than white kids in Connecticut, there will still be people killing people, and people who are crazy enough to want to do it are crazy enough to find a way. And we should be aghast about every single one of the dead kids, and adults, not just the white ones who were killed by automatic weapons in a school.
The frustrating thing about this is it is both right and wrong.  It is right because it makes clear the enormity of the problem.  It is wrong because if you say, "Wow, that's just too big," then no one does anything and we all cross our fingers and hope and pray the daily body count doesn't include people we love.

Taking any single event and saying, "Who could have known this would happen?" certainly makes sense. Except, of course, these aren't single, or singular, events.  Think Progress has a list of the 29 mass shootings since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999*, and states there have been 61 in the past 30 years.

But just as it isn't about Newtown, it isn't about mass shootings, either.  It's the mass shooting that happens each and every day, whether it's a street corner on the southwest side of Chicago, or the Lower East Side of Manhattan, or the destitute streets of New Orleans or Detroit.  These are American lives lost, a body count that we have allowed to get every larger because we both refuse to accept that these deaths are American deaths, and because we refuse to accept that bearing responsibility means doing something.

There are more things to say, such as pointing out other cultures are just as violent as ours - anyone even passing familiar with Japanese popular culture understands it is a sinkhole of violence and misogyny, for example - so American exceptionalism doesn't extend to our vices any more than it does our virtues.  There are more things to say, such as pointing out that the insistence on moments of silence are insulting to the memory of the dead.  It is silence that keeps the bodies piling up, makes that butcher's bill ever longer.

Only the dead are silent.  It is up to us, the living, to be the voice they have lost.  Because it isn't just Newtown.  It's about America.

*Their criteria for "mass shootings" appear to be slightly different from those that led to the article in the Washington Post, linked above.

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