Tag Archive | "Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting"

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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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Newtown School Shooting Prompts Renewed Call to Address Violence in Hartford, Other Cities


Updated Saturday, December 22, 2012 1:18 p.m.

By Adam Stulhman, Staff Writer

Long before the Newtown school massacre, Hartford has seen much of its own suffering from gun violence. Between 1998 and 2012, there were 700 lives lost to gun violence. And 200 homicides are left unsolved, according to the Hartford Police Department.

Some residents and officials said they hope that the Newtown tragedy prompts state and city officials to search deeper for answers and find innovative solutions for all communities in Connecticut.

City officials on Friday said one such solution is the Hartford Police Department’s Shooting Task Force, which started earlier this year. The goal of the STF is to “track down and follow 100 of the most dangerous criminals to reduce the risk of gun violence by taking away their guns and rental cars,”said Hartford Police Spokesperson Nancy Mulroy.

With a strong focus on reducing gun violence, the STF is also “focusing on roughly 700 newly released ex convicts.” officials said.

Police Chief Inspector James Rovella said he is working with Hartford Community Service officers, imploring them to work with the families of ex-convicts and victims, getting to learn more about them.

“Knock on their door,” said Rovella. “Build a relationship with their mother, their father, or their baby’s mother, whoever is in the household.”

A Compstat Report from the HPD shows that from Dec. 1, 2011 to Dec. 1, 2012, there has been a 12.5 percent decrease in shootings, from 128 to 112.

Andrew Woods, Executive Director of Communities that Care, says that the problem isn’t just about preventing gun violence, but giving youth more opportunities.

“Kids that are given opportunities are much less likely to resort to violence,” Woods said.

Also, there is also the cumulative effect of violence in the state’s capital city: the mental health of its residents, and how they cope with decades of neglect, some experts say.

Henrietta Beckman, Executive Director of Mothers United Against Violence, feels that mental health has been an issue largely ignored in Hartford, and feels that Hartford has a stigma and perception that plays into the quality of treatment.

“Hartford,” said Beckman, “has dealt with mental health for a long time, and we have been left untreated, not given enough counseling. Being an inner city, there is a difference in the quality of support that Hartford gets versus other populations, like more affluent neighborhoods.”

While Beckman feels terrible for the victims of the Newtown tragedy-and she knows personally how they feel-she wishes that Hartford could receive the same kind of support that Newtown is and will be receiving.

Woods agreed to a point with Beckman that Newtown is going to be getting a lot of resources, but overall he feels that “white people have more resources than people of color.”

“We need an increase in funding and capacity,” Woods said. “We struggle with follow up because of a lack of funds, and it is very frustrating and discouraging.”

Woods also says that Hartford youth that have been victims of violence aren’t getting the help they need, but they have been able to develop survival mechanisms, and believes that if there is a will to move forward, bureaucracies will be able to help effectively.

“Our children have found a way of coping in this environment,” Woods said. “If the will exists, then bureaucracies know how to move.” 

Rev. Henry Brown, who also works with MUAV, got involved with gun violence after he lost someone close to him, seven-year old Takira Gaston. Gaston was shot in the face on July 4, 2001.

Brown spoke about suggestions the community could make to  stop gun violence:

“We are never going to stop the sale of guns, and we need more mental health resources to commit to our children,” Brown said. “We must be more aware of the problem, taking a look into the movies, music, and video games we sell to children and young adults.”

Brown also supported Woods’ belief, saying that there needs to be increased access to mental health care.

“Mental Health is a number one player in gun violence because children at an early age get oppressed by broken homes, and suffering communities,” Brown said. “Kids suffer through an educational system and other community settings that are not as strong as they are in other parts of the state.”

Some community activists are organizing a forum about unresolved homicides: Seeking Closure and Justice. It is slated for Jan. 29, 2013 and will be at the Phillips Metropolitan C.M.E. Church Community Room, 2550 Main St., Hartford, at 5 p.m.

 

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Sandy Hook School Massacre Presents Fresh Challenge to President Obama


 By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A compassionate and tearful President Obama minced no words following the Sandy Hook, Connecticut school massacre and demanded action. Though Obama did not specify what action he had in mind, the action that has and will again spark colossal debate is how to crack down on the manic and senseless gun violence that has caused indescribable pain and suffering for so many victims, and now those victims are the innocent of innocents, elementary school children, their teachers, and their grieving parents, relatives, and friends.

The usual suspects were quick to pounce with their by now silly and facile, “guns don’t kill, people kill” pap line. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has long loudly called for Obama and Congress to enact new and tougher gun control laws, quickly jumped back into the gun control fray and made the same call again. As the names and faces of the children and the others gunned down in the horrific school massacre become known, a legion of voices will also demand that gun control be shoved back on the White House and congressional table. This is where things again will get thorny.

The assumption is that the NRA and the gun lobby is so all powerful, and financially well-heeled, that it can beat back any congressional move to impose tougher restrictions on gun access. It’s certainly done a masterful job at that. The NRA did not issue an official statement on the massacre, other than a terse one liner that it would wait until all the facts are in. But that didn’t stop other gun control opponents who worked the blogs and websites vociferously denouncing calls for tougher gun laws, and geared up for a round of talk show appearances to tout their view.

But the NRA’s money, political clout, and the saber rattle of gun control opponents is only part of the reason that tougher gun control laws, no matter how many heartbreaking massacres occur, face a hard uphill climb. The tip off on that came during the recent presidential election. Obama and Romney were briefly challenged by Bloomberg and gun control advocates to advocate and propose new gun curbs. This was prompted by the Aurora, Colorado theater massacre. They demurred. The issue quickly dropped off the political radar scope. The reason for the dodge had nothing to do with Romney’s well-known NRA membership and opposition to tougher gun control laws. Nor did it have anything to do with Obama’s seeing the issue as an unnecessary wave of the red flag in front of millions of gun owners in what was then thought to be a potentially close presidential reelection battle.

Both simply recognized that gun ownership is a fact of American life and a rigidly protected constitutional right. During his stint in the Illinois legislature, Obama’s major concern was cracking down on illegal gun sales, and the spread of and access to semi-automatic weapons. This does little to keep guns out of the hands of loose screws such as alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes and alleged Sandy Hook school shooter, Adam Lanza. In the White House Obama has simply followed the precedent of nearly all presidents and that’s to leave tougher restrictions on gun sales and trafficking to the states. Some states have passed laws that ban assault guns and high capacity ammunition magazines, limit the number of gun sales, require child safety locks on new guns, and outlaw the sale of cheap handguns.

The huge drawback to the state by state gun action is that it does not significantly limit the massive trafficking in guns across state lines. It also doesn’t begin to address the question of how to identify and then prevent the legions of human ticking time bombs that do not have a criminal record and for all intents and purposes appear to be normal functioning individuals from legally purchasing and even stockpiling weapons, and that includes weapons of mass destruction. Ultimately only Congress can pass a uniform federal standard to restrict the manufacture, sale and transport of guns.

This is where the fight begins and unfortunately has quickly ended. The first ending was Congress’s failure to reauthorize the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban which expired in 2004. Congress has been virtually mute on any gun curbs in the years since then. This did not mean that gun control bills weren’t written and introduced. They were in every Congress session. But not one piece of gun control legislation made it to the House floor. The 112th Congress was no different. None of the proposed gun control curbs even made it out of a house committee.

This in no way means that gun control curbs are dead in the water in perpetuity in Congress. Obama has called tougher gun control laws “common sense.” This signals that if there is enough public outcry and push that one or more of the gun control measures could finally make it out of a house or senate committee. Obama is not running for reelection and does not have to look nervously over his shoulder and worry about enraged gun owners raking him over the coals for putting his White House muscle behind one of the bills.

That and the eventual passage of fresh gun restrictions would at least send the right signal that the gun lobby is not invincible and that millions of Americans want and demand anything that will at least potentially head off the next rampage.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.

 

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