Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education

Commentary on “The mass killings in Newtown”

This is a blog post from a former Oakland teacher reflecting on the Newtown massacre and advocating for a different kind of gun control than that commonly echoed in the mainstream media.

The original post came from  The blog is called Facts For Working People.

Commentary on “The mass killings in Newtown”

by Jack Gerson

Some of you may have already read the piercing comment that Gary (one of this blog’s [that is, Facts for Working People, not this blog, ClassRoom Struggle] regular readers) wrote in response to Richard Mellor’s “The mass killings in Newtown, Conn. have deep social roots”.  Gary’s comment really resonated with me. Here’s Gary’s comment in full, followed by a bit more from me:

I would like to add to some of your fine posts here. I grew up 5 minutes down the road from Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT. My home town, where my parents still live is Monroe, CT. The next town over.

A couple of brief points I want to get off my chest. I acknowledge this as a horrible, horrible tragedy. Now, down the road about 20 minutes from Newtown is a former industrialized city named Bridgeport CT where youth are threatened by gun violence on a near daily basis. And at least 17 murders have occurred this year alone. This pattern repeats itself year after year after year.

Unfortunately, the national media and political figures do not speak much about the violence that occurs in Bridgeport and I hate to say such a thing but I live here and I know that people in the surrounding suburbs accept the violence there as “normal”…nothing can be done.

The multinational corporations in the area have long since abandoned the average worker in Bridgeport. General Electric being just one of an incredibly long list of such companies to leave the residents there in very desperate poverty.

It is well past time to demand that every member of society have decent housing, productive work and a secure retirement. It is well past time to insist that guns be made illegal in the united states. It is well past the time to demand that huge mulitnational corporations be forced to fulfill a role to society in every country where they do business that goes beyond only profits.
The tragedy in Newtown should lay bare all that is completely dysfunctional with unbridled capitalism and change must occur. The status quo is no longer acceptable.
Gary makes an essential point. While in no way diminishing the grief and loss of the parents and community in Newtown, nor lessening the tragedy of so many lives being snuffed out when most had barely begun, it is a fact that across the U.S., every year, thousands of adolescents — and children — in communities like Bridgeport die violent deaths. This is the case in the low-income, working-class and poor communities in every urban area, and especially so for black and Latino youth. And the reactions are invariably what Gary encounters in Bridgeport: “… people in the surrounding suburbs accept the violence there as ‘normal’ … nothing can be done.”
I have found this to be very much the pattern in Oakland, California. For years, I taught at Castlemont High School, located in one of the poorest communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, in “Deep East” Oakland, violence is an everyday occurrence. Most students had close friends or relatives who had been killed in the neighborhood. One time, the school was sprayed with bullets from a passing car — two students shot in the face, one paralyzed for life. Another time, someone fired a high-powered rifle from off-campus into a classroom during school hours (fortunately, noone was hit). And every year, several times a year, the school would go on “lockdown” because of a shooting in the area.
The response among the more affluent, and in the mass media, hasn’t been, “Let’s address the underlying problems of social inequality, the poverty and racism victimizing this community every day.” No, rather, it has been “Oh, that’s just Castlemont. That’s just East Oakland. That’s normal for ‘them’. Can’t do anything about that. And since we can’t do anything about it, let’s ease the city’s ‘budget crisis’ by making still more cuts.” So this racist, blame-the-victim attitude is used as an excuse to exacerbate the grinding poverty and  social inequality that underlie the despair and violence,  in turn making the despair and violence worse still. Thus, only a few weeks after Castlemont was shot up by drive-by gunmen, the Oakland school district laid off the school’s librarian and permanently closed the library; eliminated all of the school’s vocational programs (although they were self-funding and had helped hundreds of students to find jobs in an area where the unemployment rate for blacks under 25 is over 50%); eliminated academic electives (e.g., French) and made cuts to others (science; history). Cuts were made to clerical, custodial, and teaching staff. It is a textbook case of  blaming the victim to deepen the victimization.
There’s one thing in Gary’s overall excellent comment that I’m not sure I agree with. That’s where he writes, “It is well past time to insist that guns be made illegal in the united states.” While I don’t like the free availability of semi-automatic weapons, and while the overall level of violence in the U.S. certainly is cause for pause, I fear that a “War on Guns” will be used in much the same way as the “War on Drugs”. The latter has had little effect on the availability of drugs on the street. But that’s not its real target. Indeed, it has increased instability and, especially, police harassment in low-income black and brown communities across the U.S. It has been used to criminalize a whole generation of black and brown youth, to effectively reinstitute, what Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow”. I fear that a U.S. “War on Guns” will be turned in much the same way — as an excuse to increase police harassment and violence, to facilitate still more incarceration of especially black youth, to increase fear and hopelessness in low-income communities.
And let’s not forget: the teary-eyed Barack Obama, who is so concerned about wanton gun violence, devotes every Tuesday morning to reviewing and modifying the lists of “terrorists” around the world to be assassinated by drone missiles. So I guess I am for some form of gun control after all: disarm and destroy the U.S. nuclear and drone arsenal; shut down all foreign military and CIA bases; withdraw all U.S. troops; crack down on weapons exports from U.S. arms manufacturers. That would be a start to getting at the root causes of violence in the U.S.

One comment on “Commentary on “The mass killings in Newtown”

  1. Amapola
    January 8, 2013

    This article gave me a new perspective to think about. I had been noticing that while this tragedy astounded people nation-wide and received huge media coverage, other shootings of youth happening in usually low-income neighborhoods go unnoticed by most people, even those living nearby. This above all has to stop- the poverty and lack of opportunities that affect too many people.

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This entry was posted on December 29, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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