Last week’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children dead prompted an outpouring of emotion from people across the country, including President Barack Obama.
“The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” said Obama, who paused and repeatedly wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke.
“So our hearts are broken today — for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost. …” he said.
The massacre also sparked strong calls for tighter gun control legislation in an effort to prevent further such tragedies.
Edith Honan of Reuters wrote that U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal told a group of a few dozen residents at the Newtown town library on Wednesday night that it was time for a “seismic change” in gun policies.
“This horrific tragedy has changed America, in the way that it is ready to stop the spread of gun violence,” Blumenthal said, according to Honan.
Apparently the National Rifle Association is ready to participate in the change Blumenthal said was so needed.
After five days of silence, the powerful firearms lobby which has long resisted any effort to restrict gun ownership, signaled this week it may be ready to bend. It said it would offer “meaningful contributions” to prevent future such massacres at an event in Washington on Friday.
Action too late for victims in Newtown, Chicago
Whatever legislation comes will be too late to help the 20 victims who were killed by Adam Lanza at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It will also be too late for the 270 children who have been killed by guns in Chicago since 2007.
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Like the students of Sandy Hook, these children had their lives ahead of them.
Like the children of Newtown, they were buried by their elders in a situation for which there is no word in English or Spanish because it is not supposed to happen.
The neighborhood of Chicago Lawn alone has had 21 deaths.
All by gunshot.
Of course, these children were not statistics, they were sons and daughters and nephews and nieces and grandchildren.
There was Schanna Gayden, a 13-year-old, an honor roll student and star basketball player who was killed in gang crossfire in June 2007 as she walked across the park to buy fruit from a street vendor.
There were Alizay and Anthony Marchan, 7 and 9 respectively, siblings were murdered in September 2008 by their father, a Chicago Police officer who later turned the gun on himself.
There was Cynia Cole, not yet 2 years old, shot in the head in April 2010 while in the back seat of a car with her two young sisters who must forever carry that memory.
And on and on and on.
Media coverage, but no federal legislation
It’s not that there hasn’t been attention paid to the deaths.
All but four murders of Chicago’s youth were the subject of at least one news report-a fact we know thanks to Swartz’s diligence.
Yet, even with the coverage, the steady amount of murdered Chicago youth-there has been a minimum of 42 young people killed by guns each year since 2008-has not had the same capacity to move our collective outrage and federal lawmakers to action as the single tragic incident in Newtown.
Some would point to the scale of the Sandy Hook shooting as key in puncturing the resistance to action.
Others might cite the racial composition of the children.
All but one of the Newtown children in the images we have seen are white.
But 70 percent of the shooting victims in Chicago for whom the race was known were black in a city that in 2011 was 33 percent black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some might also look at the economic level of the communities in question.
The median household income in Newtown was in the low six figures-far higher than in neighborhoods like Chicago Lawn, Humboldt Park, West Englewood, New City and Austin that had the highest totals of young people killed.
In one of their songs, acappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock paid tribute to civil rights organizer Ella Baker by quoting her words in the song bearing her name: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it come. Until the killing of black men, black mother’s sons, is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s son.”
If passed, the proposed gun control changes will be welcome to many.
But the fact that it took this event to shock the nation into action suggests that Ella Baker’s definition of freedom has not yet come, despite the country’s having twice chose a black father’s son to lead it.