Monday, March 26, 2018

Racism and the Parkland Protests

I can’t be too cynical about the activism of the loudest and most media magnetized of the Parkland protestors. I can only vaguely imagine their experience, and realize that I, too, center my advocacy on matters that have personally affected me. We choose the color of our ribbon by what malady has touched us. So no one can blame those who were previously untouched by violence and, therefore, unconcerned about violence until they faced it.

We are instinctive in our desire to fight or flee, or be frozen in silent immobility by, those things that we perceive to be an attack on our corpus, security, or sense of self. Having violent and sudden death stalk your hallways can do that.

I also am wary of blaming activists for concentrating on things that are disproportionate to other important issues. Yes, I agree that drunk driving, texting while driving, abortions, and swimming pool accidents each kill more people every year than die in mass shootings or school shootings, but these don’t result in a virulent call to end backyard swimming pools, trips to the beach, or kids in boats because those are all deaths we are quite comfortable with, especially when they only happen one or two at a time.

But the rest of us – the attentive, news-watching public – should be expected to exercise rationality and discernment, even as we sympathetically feel support for the young people raising their voices.

So, I must ask the question of us – why do we only get lathered up about white middle-class kids getting shot? In trying to develop some perspective among my readers in various venues as a journalist and expert in violence I calculated that if stacked on top of each other horizontally, the number of black Americans murdered every year would reach the top levels of the Empire State Building. School shooting victims every year would about equal the number of people struck by lightening every year.

A look at FBI and other crime statistics will show that violent crime is down but for select urban areas, mostly with higher populations of black citizens. And, with few exceptions, their killers were also black. (And, oh, by the way, half of mass shooters are a racial minority, for what it’s worth). Now, some readers will immediately accuse this writer of racism because ALL LIVES MATTER and why should we be so hung up on race?!

But I’m accusing you, reader, of being racist, because you aren’t scanning the headlines of CNN or Fox News looking at the number of black children murdered. Because it is rarely newsworthy. 

Believe me, I do not discount in any way the lives lost at Sandy Hook, or Columbine, or Parkland. But part of why we cared so much about those events and how to prevent them is because they weren’t urban black kids.

Now, none of that means we should not discuss crime control, school safety, the 2nd Amendment, or mental health. But as we do, we might want to look over our shoulders and ask “Am I missing something?”