Thursday, May 31, 2012

the guns

Our city is in the midst of a huge, disturbing spike in gun violence and the past week has been particularly brutal with several lives lost to senseless shootings. The first hit especially close to home when last Thursday a man driving his car was hit by a stray bullet during an altercation on the street. His two small children were in the car with him, and he died on the spot. Andrew, the girls and I were at a park three blocks away when it happened. It was the middle of the afternoon, and reminded me very much of our experience one year ago, but with much more serious consequences.

In our neighborhood the conversation and assumptions around shootings are always racially charged. The neighborhood chatter assumes the incidents are gang related, that the perpetrators are young black men. They're right a good percentage of the time. Sometimes I feel like there is a narrative in our town that only the brown poor people deal drugs, and shoot people, usually each other. But it's not true, as yesterday's horror story played out in primarily white neighborhoods when a white man shot several people in a northside cafe and proceeded to kill someone else downtown while stealing a car before being barricaded into a house by police and ultimately shooting himself. 

The girls chose to keep each other awake instead of napping yesterday, resulting in an early bedtime for them and a quiet dinner together for Andrew and me. We talked about the shootings, our city, how the whole thing makes us wish that nobody had guns anywhere, ever. We talked about the narratives already forming in the media, and being put forward by the police. And we have our own narratives. 

I think about the two shooters. We don't know anything about the person whose bullet killed the father driving his kids to swimming lessons last week, except that he is likely an African-American male. Even if he is found, tried, convicted and punished he will never get the media attention that the shooter today will receive.  The white man who went on an intentional rampage yesterday before killing himself will have several pages of  media looking into his background for mental illness, repression, bad parenting, anything to explain how or why a white man could act in this reprehensible way. But we don't need to explore the story of last week's shooter. We already have a story for him. With both the temptation will be to dismiss them as random, aberrations, not something that is "our" responsibility. Yet the disenfranchisement of young black men and the cutting of social safety nets for the mentally ill is "our" responsibility. As is the presence and availability of guns.

 I love our neighborhood, I love our city, and as one of our fellow building residents posted on her facebook yesterday, I refuse to give in to fear.

But I tell you what, I hate guns. I don't hate the shooters - while they are definitely culpable for their actions they are also caught in systemic webs of oppression, mental illness, and disenfranchisement from society that we all participate in. But I hate, I hate guns. It is hard to accidentally kill an innocent bystander while in an altercation using a knife. Or fists. We will eventually find out that yesterday's shooter obtained his gun legally.  And while last week's gun was probably not legally obtained someone at some point did buy it or make it. If our culture did not worship the "right" to carry devices whose only purpose is to kill people without touching them, I wonder if that illegal gun may have been harder to obtain. I wonder if the young man shooting it would have done so so casually, in the broad afternoon sunlight. Guns are cowardly weapons. I hate guns.

9 comments:

  1. We spent some time in heavy conversation last night about these shootings as well... for me, I can't even feel much fear about it, because I'm not even sure what I'd be afraid of. Driving down 23rd Ave? No. Going to a coffee shop at 10am on a Wednesday? No. It feels like there's no target for the fear... I feel like my only recourse in the face of violence like this is to just embrace gratitude for each day. Trite, but feeling true to me.

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    1. I don't think embracing gratitude is trite at all. I much prefer that response to some of the other options out there - the ones you mentioned or some uglier ones that I am sure will be present in the public conversation as we get distance from this.

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  2. We've also been talking about this...about guns...about racism. Seattle is one of the most racist places I've ever lived. All micro-aggression though- which is somehow worse. I have also been thinking how the media or at least Seattle's white middle class had reacted differently if the father who was killed had been a black man or any other minority. . . it's harder to write off when the narrative is ours. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

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    1. Seattle's racism is insidious, I agree. There is about one shooting a month in the neighborhood of Garfield H.S. and the only ones who make city-wide news are incidents where either a white person is harmed or that take place in the presence of the white students at the high school. I am grateful for neighborhood news blogs for covering the rest.

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  3. I, too, hear of many, many shootings that are "drug deals gone bad" or "beefs" and are under-reported or not reported at all, let alone prosecuted in any way. Guns are prolific, and based on the direct experience stories I hear from youth in juvenile detention, I think there are hundreds of young people (and adults) walking around with guns in their pants. Where do they get them? From adults. From a society that condones the use and ownership of guns and the violence of an unhealthy society. Also, these kids (mostly) of color, are the direct victims of our racism, economic injustice and oppression. I try to talk openly about how carrying a gun won't protect them, but they firmly believe it will and worse yet, they have accepted the fact that they will not likely live beyond 20 so "oh well!" What does all this say about our society? The discussion on racism is certainly a start to dealing with the issue. Sometimes it feels so overwhelmingly large. It helps to know other people care about these issues, so thank you for writing such a good blog, Alissabeth.

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  4. Yes, this. I think your description of the differences in media coverage between the two shootings is absolutely correct. It happens here (in my big East-Coast city) as well. And I particularly love your last paragraph. Thank you for articulating this so well.

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  5. well said my friend, as usual.

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  6. Blaming guns for the spike in crimes in your city is ridiculous. A gun hasn't killed a single person. PEOPLE kill people. A gun doesn't kill a person the same as a fork doesn't make a person fat. It is ALL about personal choices. The people committing these crimes do so because they do not value human life. If is isn't a gun, it is a knife, a baseball bat, a car, or any other number of inanimate objects that can inflict pain. Outlawing all guns won't solve the problem in your city.....just look at the statistics in Washington, DC when they had a ban on all handguns. If you outlaw guns, then you are leaving only the outlaws with guns. Instead of hiding in your apartment and praying you aren't getting caught in the crossfire or leaving your home a nervous wreck each day why don't you consider a different approach and utilize the 2nd ammendment. Take a class in gun safety, apply for a license to carry and protect yourself and your family from these thugs.

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    1. Hi Anonymous - I don't blame guns, I HATE guns. See the difference? I don't think I said anything in my post about outlawing them. I just said that I hate them. I hate them the way I hate nuclear weapons or any other man made device whose sole purpose is to make interpersonal violence both more devastating and easier to accomplish from a safe distance (sort of like anonymous comments on the internet make it easier to be rude). And I hate that our cultures glorifies them as a human right. I am not afraid in my neighborhood and I will never hide in my apartment. But I will also never ever carry a gun. You're welcome to your opinion but from where I sit attitudes like yours make it worse not better.

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