Newtown School Shooting Exposes Power, Privilege and Politics of Gun Violence

By Ann-Marie Adams, Ph.D.

More than a week after 20-year-old Adam Lanza massacred 20 first-graders and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School, plunging a seemingly bucolic New England town into unspeakable grief, Connecticut still mourns. For some, their pain is tinged with weariness because innocent children in affluent Newtown died and exposed an inconvenient truth: race and class matter.

Indeed, power and privilege are enmeshed with the aftermath of this tragic event on Dec. 14, as evidenced in public discourse. Most discussions lack context, or focus on mental illness, gun rights and media violence. Moreover, blame has been shifted from the perpetrator and onto societal fault lines: easy access to guns, little access to mental health, and overexposure to violence.

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The latest and most deadly school massacre in America, the Newtown mass shooting presents an opportune moment to address these issues, including gun control laws. But unfortunately too much of the discussion has been focused on “assault weapons” with lethal firepower. For example, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) proposed a ban on “high capacity magazines” with more than 10 rounds.

Sadly, many have unwittingly implied that people in urban areas are not violently assaulted by handguns. In fact, some have normalized tragedy in urban communities.

At a town hall meeting at the CPTV Studios on Thursday, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra realized that much and called for an expanded definition of “assault weapons” to include handguns that have killed innocent children and adults in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven for decades. Between 1998 and 2012 in Hartford alone, there has been 700 lives lost to gun violence. And 200 homicides remain unsolved.

Moreover, many residents across the state have been traumatized by gun violence. For instance, in 2001 a bullet disfigured seven-year old Takira Gaston’s face, which needed several rounds of reconstructive surgery. In 2008,  a bullet scraped seven-year-old Tyrek Marquez’s head, and he is now partially paralyzed.  In 2010, bullets shattered the rear view mirror of a car and sliced the finger of a two-year-old boy. And after a weekend of gun violence in June left two dead and many injured, Hartford residents held another round of vigils.

Evidently, handguns create daily carnage in cities across the nation. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, (D-Illinois) lost his son to gun violence in 1999. For decades, he has introduced bills to stem the flow of guns into cities. In January when Congress convenes, he will renew his push with H.R. 6680. In a phone interview on Thursday, Rush said the “Blair Bill” would, among other things, mandate serial numbers on all handguns. He added that most homicides are left unsolved because it is difficult to trace handguns.

Rush represents the first district in Chicago, now the homicide capital of the world. In June, 240 people in Chicago were killed mostly in shootings, according to a New York Times article. And a significant number of the 30,000 Americans who died by gun violence each year are African Americans and Latinos. Not all are criminals. And almost everyone is somebody’s brother, sister, father or child—just like in Newtown.

To the dean of the Illinois caucus, the Newtown tragedy is the latest “wake up call” to address guns and gun violence.

“We’re saddened by what happened in Newtown. But I also know that in Hartford, New Haven, Houston and Los Angeles, blacks and Hispanics are being shot daily,” Rush said. “It was a foregone conclusion that these crimes would not visit wealthy suburban towns. Now, we know that’s not true. Bullets don’t have GPS. And they don’t discriminate.”

As we watch many around the world memorialize 26 people, who died in Lanza’s rampage before he took his own life and the life of his mother, we recognize a familiar truth: some lives are worth more than others. And race and class matter in how the story unfolds in the media and how some politicians address this longstanding issue.

Executive Director of Mothers United Against Violence in Hartford Henrietta Beckman sympathizes with the residents of Newtown. But she is convinced these victims “will get more resources to cope with their loss.”

Additionally, it seems to Beckman and others that Connecticut’s shooting spree might be the seminal moment to regulate access to guns and perhaps improve mental health policies. More Americans are now  “inspired” to do something about gun violence.  And President Barack Obama recently announced an inter-agency panel and appointed Vice President Joseph Biden to address gun violence in our society.

While Congress and state legislators move toward some kind of action, people of color must also seize this opportunity to ensure that their lives matter just as much as those lives in Newtown. Indeed, they must work to improve civil society. Precious lives depend on it.

Photo Credit: wired.com

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16 Comments For This Post

  1. Samantha Winters Says:

    Thanks for this article. We need to be mindful that gun violence have impacted others for decades. I hope America wakes up and know that what affects people over “there” can affect people “here.”

    Those children were so young. This couldve been avoided if America was aware that we can’t run away from what’s happening in urban communities. And we need to care about everybody, not just our own.

  2. Ryan Matthews Says:

    I lost my brother to violence about 10 years ago. I understand what those families in Newtown are going through. My heart goes out to them and all who have lost loved ones to gun violence. Good article, Ms. Adams.

  3. Julie Says:

    Unbelievable. I cannot believe the author is taking this opportunity to tout racism. Not all of these victims were Caucasian either.

    This tragedy touches all of us in a unique and poignant way. Children sitting in a school classroom were slaughtered in mass. And this author is whining about blacks and Hispanics getting their fair share. There is really no end to the minority whinging. I work for a company that practically requires you to be black or Hispanic to achieve promotion.

    This author needs to take his pen and revisit his perspective and try a new angle that us not eye roll provoking. And then next he can be more than glib about this particular tragedy. It is not a pulpit for equality. Minorities count more than they should in this society and for that they should be grateful.

  4. Ryan Matthews Says:

    Julie…your post tells me that you didn’t read this article. You are so caught up with hate you can’t even distinguish a man and a female.

  5. Julie Says:

    Ryan,

    I am not sure where I communicate hate – just an opinion. This tragedy and the amount of attention it has received is not a reflection of racism in any way shape or form. This authoress thinks the attention demonstrates how much we as a society care about blacks and hispanics vs. whites. It is clear in her column. I disagree. And I think it is dispicable to use it as a platform to raise the race issue.

    For people like you, my failure to notice the authoress’ sex means I am sexist as well.

    I am sorry you lost your brother to violence.

    Julie

  6. Joseph Says:

    Julie, you’re either racist or extremely naive to think tragedies aren’t treated differently based in color. Nobody is celebrating the deaths of these innocent children or saying their passing isn’t sorrowful. The entire article asks why does it take a tragedy in an affluent mostly white community for there to be a national outcry? More people died in suburban Chicago last year than Afghanistan (lucky for me I was in Kandahar), where was the outrage then? And if you still believe “minorities get more than they deserve”, ask yourself this, when was the last time you saw a missing black child on the news for more than a day? Or Asian? Or Hispanic?

    Hell, you can’t even name the Peruvian girl Joran Van Der Sloot killed, but I bet you know who Natalie Holloway is……

  7. Sabrina Says:

    Julie you are clearly delusional and have no authority to discuss the value that American society places on the lives of young Blacks and Latinos especially children. It would serve better if people like would not jump to the ‘it’s not racist’ anthem and instead choose to learn something. It is just your opinion and thankfully not everyone thinks like you.

  8. Delwyn X. Campbell Says:

    To my shame, I must confess that this is the first time I am hearing about Hartford’s problems with gun violence. I have not seen any news pieces about it, no Facebook pages discussing it, no radio talkshow hosts arguing about how to respond -wait a minute, THAT was the author’s point, Julie, but in your race-sensitive ignorance, all you heard was “minorities want some attention – wahhhh!!!”
    Your comments reflect the following attitude, which I imagine you would deny, red-faced, if I were to tell you in person: When children of privilege suffer, it’s a tragedy; when children outside the gates suffer, it’s a statistic.
    You don’t even feel the slightest twinge, the smallest pause of reflection, in your zeal to defend your lack of awareness. It’s as if, in your mind, the kids in Hartford aren’t entitled, as are the kids in Newtown, to grow up without fearing stray bullets or random gunfire. I guess, in places like Hartford, Chicago, and others, they deserve to die and be maimed by someone’s use of a gun, but not in Newtown.
    “Whatever you do to the LEAST of these, My brothers, you have done it to Me,” said the Lord Jesus Christ. Next time you feel compelled to defend your selective blindness, remember, He whose birth we celebrate today, does not see as men see, for they look on the outward appearance, but He searches the heart.”

  9. Paul Says:

    @Julie:
    Its not that your response says anything directly hate-based, bigoted or racist, its your tone of the language used to voice your opinion that infers it! Hate is often an opinion, sometimes based in innocent ignorance! The following are your words:” Minorities count more than they should in this society and for that they should be grateful” (sounds angry). Or “And this author is whining about blacks and Hispanics getting their fair share. There is really no end to the minority whinging. I work for a company that practically requires you to be black or Hispanic to achieve promotion.” What is it you’re really trying to say! Are you, or folks you know, upset at not receiving a promotion—its the company not the folks getting promotions you might want to be upset with. Maybe you and others have been bamboozled into thinking others are getting unfair, or biased, promotions. In reality perhaps its the old tactics a business will use to keep the work-force at one another’s throats while they get more profits—divide and conquer sound familiar—along with promoting the perception of scarcity of money to justify fair compensation of the workforce! Besides, there are at least double the amount of Black and Brown people unemployed vs other ethnicities in the work-place! But then I don’t know the specifics of what your referring to—what are they? The reaction of contempt and disdain you seem to have for the author of the article, its comparison to the most recent gun-related tragedy by using Black and Brown urban/city gun violence, coupled with the inconvenient and often uncomfortable truth of persistent racial inequality in this country might lead some to think your hating, racist or bigoted. After reading your replies I do wonder what made you so uncomfortable about the article; and why have you reacted the way you have especially in light of sad but true facts stated in the article coupled with its just plain hard to talk about ‘race In america’ openly and honestly. Yet with this particular social problem all aspects must and should be looked at and concerns voiced. Yet again race is one that’s not being mentioned—why is that! With that said, you may not know but often what ever is happening on the national scene has usually been going on in the Black and Brown communities for more than awhile/years. Its just labeled something else and not given fair attention and no I’m not ‘whining’ but stating historical fact! And mind you, if it hasn’t happened in a community or town near you it soon will regardless of anyones’ ethnicity—just pick a topic. Be it a failing educational system, drugs, gang-violence, dropout rates, jobless rates, child hunger etc! And more often than not, only when it becomes a problem of what seems to be a middle-class or safe, affluent and/or predominately White community is anything done aka providing grief counselors, fund-raising, etc! You don’t have to believe what I, or others, say here any more than you have to believe in gravity or the earth revolves arounds the sun—the facts speak for themselves! Besides, what a great starting point to cover many inter-related social topics in search of a larger and common solution, provided this is what is really desired. Remember that initially few wanted to face or hear what MLK had to say about social injustice but once it was heard and understood all benefited. All I can say is look into the fact(s) of the matter. If opposing opinions and facts make you uncomfortable when confronted, perhaps this is where you might begin asking why is that? Perhaps you’ll be surprised by what you’ll find out about the subject as well as yourself. So if I may suggest the following: the next time you read something you don’t agree with don’t react to it in writing without first doing a draft to see if its exactly what you want to say and be understood. Then you also might want to read aloud how you/it sounds via your choice of words. I choose to believe no one here thinks you’re hating or are bigoted or racist, especially since your ethnicity etc is unknown. None-the-less, please be careful of what you say and how you say it! Yes—you do have a responsibility of the effect your words have on others and then how your perceived by others; this is the lesson for us all.

  10. Tanya Jackson-Smith Says:

    The above article was nicely written. Thank you for your observation, Dr. Ann-Marie Adams.

  11. Ryan Matthews Says:

    Well said, Paul. Thanks for educating Julie–if she so chooses to be. Some people do want to remain ignorant.

  12. Sandra Says:

    What does Julie want you to write about Dr. Adams? Land of make believe ? Fairy tales? Santa Claus? Some of these white people are so racist and stoopid. A lot of them have have no clue. That’s why they’re always so shocked when things that have been happening to other people across the world happen to them.

    The article hit the damn nail on the head. And it’s what other people–white and black and brown and yellow–are noticing too. People have eyes. They see the BIG BIG difference in how this is covered. Kids get killed in war zones all the time.

  13. Julie Says:

    Paul,Ryan,

    I do not think the Newtown incident is the platform to raise the issue of inequality. If you believe she is not raising this issue in her article, then fair enough. I do. And I think it is an unparalleled incident and cannot be compared to other shooting tragedies in the same way. A school is a safe haven even if it is a school in a more affluent area. The attention and resources (and I pull this word from her article) that these victims and families get will be needed.

    I don’t believe anyone, affluent or poor, normalizes violence and tragedy by paying attention to this particular tragedy or by suggesting that assault rifles be banned. I quote Dr Adams ‘As we watch many around the world memorialize 26 people, who died in Lanza’s rampage before he took his own life and the life of his mother, we recognize a familiar truth: some lives are worth more than others. And race and class matter in how the story unfolds in the media and how some politicians address this longstanding issue’. Her words are clear. She believes blacks, hispanics and minorities matter less. She even says it is a ‘familiar truth’. I disagree wholeheartedly. I believe this country and its leaders, politicians and media outlets would have been equally horrified by the same tragedy occuring in a school in an inner city urban area.

    I have an opinion that differs from probably most readers of this paper and all of the other posters. You may not have liked my previous words or these words. They were meant to inflame. Dr. Adams’ words are outrageous to me.

    The policy of affirmative action is an injustice that does nothing but serve to further aggravate overal injustices. I wonder if Dr Adams is herself a minority? Most schools have active policies of lowering admittance criteria for minorities. If you are a minority and you want to go to Harvard and all other things being equal, you have a much better chance of getting in than some Harvard grad’s grandson.

    She seems to contradict herself when she says that ‘bullets do not have a GPS or discriminate’. Interesting. Even though bullets don’t discriminate, the rest of us do.

    Dr. Adams’ says that people of color must work to make sure that their lives matter just as much as the victims in Newtown. She insinuates that people of no color would not be interested or would not consider those lives just as precious.

  14. Sandra Says:

    Now the racism is just oozing out of Julie. She comes off like a middle-age white woman–or a man pretending to be a woman– that hates and envy fine black women. She and her crazy Republican friends in Congress also said Susan Rice, a Rhode Scholar, was not qualify or didn’t have the credentials. That’s why they fire black women so fast for petty nonsense.

    Julie herself desn’t seem educated. Look at her words. But she feels justified in judging whether someone earned a doctoral degree. I’ve never seen such stupidity?

    Well missy, Dr. Adams and Ambassador Rice both have earned and do have their education. And guess what, you nor anyone can’t take it away. And when I EARN my degree none of you racist white people will be able to take it away either. Education is not just to get a job. It’s also to fight with racists like you who are–it seems, deeply uneducated and lack critical thinking skills. So y’all thinking is warped. TWISTED.

  15. Julie Says:

    Sandra,

    Racism (I guess it is called reverse racism) and hate are jumping off the screen at me.

    My mentor is a beautiful and educated black woman. She would never write the filth you have just posted.

    Isn’t the ultimate point to prevent tragedies from happening in our country whether it be in an affluent area or in an urban setting? What is Dr Adam’s call to action here? What solution is she proposing to stop violence? Why is it an issue of race? Do any of us want to see violence committed against any child – white, black or hispanic? I say no emphatically. I do care and would grieve equally if a black or hispanic innocent dies as the result of gun violence. So would other ‘whites’.

    What does Dr. Adams want to happen as the result of the Newtown tragedy? And what is her point exactly?

    As a reader, I would know what the author wanted me to do. All I know from reading Dr Adam’s article is that she thinks that the Newtown tragedy will get more attention and resources and will lead to some kind of action by those in power when action should have been taken all along. Who has the most power in this country and has had the most power for the past four years but a black president??

    Dr. Adams is wrong. People care desperately about our children and safety in our society. She should be writing about how all races can come together (not just people of color)and jointly work to prevent another Newtown and other tragedies from occurring. Not playing the race card.

    Sandra, you are wrong. I am not a man and I am not a racist. I am someone who is not afraid to have a differing clearly controversial opinion using critical thinking. You fail to demonstrate any critical thinking skills in your post. What does Susan Rice have to do with the price of tea in China?

  16. Bryan Says:

    Julie, there’s no such thing as reverse racism. I think you have a personal vendetta and you’re hiding behind an anonymous name to spew venom. Reaveal your identity and be brave enough to voice and defend your opinion like Dr. Adams, who apparently had more balls than most people seeking attention and who see things but clam up. Dr. Adams has balls. I’m now a big fan. Unlike Julie, I don’t have to agree with an opinion to say it’s brilliantly done. Thanks, Dr. Adams. I love your writing. It’s not showy. It just gets right to the point in a clear and elegant way. And more importantly, your writing comes from the heart. Good stuff.

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