Will Newtown, Conn., Be The Breaking Point?
5 months ago
Children are being shot around the country; can we do something, now, to make it stop?
First, let me say that we should grieve, this shooting should be the call to action that it has become, and I believe that something needs to be done so that children, whether they live in Newtown or the Bronx, can be safe. It is just that my grief was just as great when I heard about little Lloyd being gunned down on a playground as it was when I first got the details about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. As a mother, I imagined how I would feel had I been Norman, forced to bury my son before his life had really begun, just as I teared up watching Robbie Parker remember his daughter Emilie, who was killed Friday, admiring the grace with which he spoke, the compassion he had, even in the face of such horror, as he offered his prayers to the family of the shooter.
But for most, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary has had more of an impact than any of the other deaths that have come before, and I asked some friends why that was.
“I think it's 20 small children, most of them in one classroom, as I understand it, in one small moment of time, in one school, in one neighborhood. So many lives in one place changed in an instant…I think it's all of that—combined with the prior shootings that we know resulted in no change. And now we have to lose kindergartners??? For what?” wrote one friend.
My friend Michele, who works at a school and lives in Maryland with her two young sons wrote: “I think it's because school is a place that you expect your kids to be safe in, especially an elementary school. It hits home because folks understand that violence can reach even them...I think it would have been the same reaction if someone went into an inner city school and gunned down 20 kindergartners,” though she thought things would have been different if the children had been older: “I think, in general, folks think it isn't as tragic when violence happens in an inner city neighborhood. My impression is that more affluent folks feel like violence is a hazard of being poor.”
And then there was this response, which bluntly stated a sentiment shared by many, but rarely discussed:
“What color were the victims in CT vs Chicago and the Bronx? Caucasians tend to have a higher base retail worth versus minorities who are considered expendable.”
Studies have shown that race does in fact play a part when it comes to empathy. A study done by Joan Y. Chiao, assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University, showed that people are more likely to empathize with and want to help people who look like them.
"It's just that feeling of ‘That person is like me,’ or ‘That person is similar to me,’" Chiao said. "That experience can really lead to what we're calling ‘extraordinary empathy and altruistic motivation.’ It's empathy and altruistic motivation above and beyond what you would do for another human.”
My hope is that we have finally reached a point where we can push beyond that, so that we can empathize and fight for change regardless of the race or socioeconomic class of the children being killed. We might be more used to seeing the faces of murdered little black children on TV than we are seeing little white children gunned down, but as my friend Jackie put it: “Other lives lost, no matter where, are not any less important. When they happen, one at a time, we're used to that. That happens everywhere all the time. What doesn't happen everywhere, all the time, are these mass shootings. All of it is senseless. All of it is stupid. And all of it requires change -- a multitude of change.”