Updated with phone numbers to call, below.
The news is still unfolding, the horror and the numbers still unclear, but this much we know:
Some 27 people, 18 of them children 28 people, 20 of them children, have been killed in an elementary school shooting in Newtown, CT.
Before we go deeper into the day and our grief, I want to quickly say something about the coverage of violent events in America.
It is true – it is unavoidably, abundantly, obviously true – that the violent deaths of white people get much more play than those of brown people in the American media. A few blocks from where I sit, the African-American and Latino residents of Chicago face an ebb and flow of violence that scars the city afresh on a nearly daily basis, many of the victims children who got in the way or young people just trying to get to school or get back home. These are Americans who live with fear, who shape their days and are in turn shaped by fear, Americans who we, more often than not, ignore.
We ignore this violence because the people who die are poor, or we suspect they might have been involved in the violence themselves, or we just don’t care very much about the lives of people who don’t look like us, and racism can warp our own shared humanity, and we also ignore it to no small degree because it has become a daily drip — not news, far from news, just a depressing, daily reality to which most American consumers of news can’t relate. Much as we’ve learned to ignore the daily drip-drip-drip of traffic deaths, we ignore the daily violence among the disadvantaged.
When the malaise reaches the majority and touches our lives, that’s when we notice. Heroin is only a problem, they say, when it reaches the suburbs.
But it is also true that even though far more people die in traffic accidents annually, we become obsessed with plane crashes and their death tolls. All of these terrifying deaths in one place at the same time draws the eye and the heartbreak — and in this case, it was a school. An elementary school. An elementary school covering grades K-4. Not just a large number of deaths at one time, not just all in one place, not even just at a school, for God’s sake — but at a school for really, really little kids.
All of our kids need and deserve to be able to walk to and from school in safety. All of our kids need and deserve to be able to take a seat in social studies or reading and know that they will emerge unscathed. All of them: Black, white, brown, poor, rich, city, country, all.of.them.
The lives of high schoolers just hoping to live to graduation on Chicago’s West Side are intimately bound up with the lives of second graders in Newtown, CT. They all need our attention, and they all need our protection.
And they need real, workable gun laws. It’s far from all they need, but it’s a damn good place to start. Because all of their lives matter, and none of them should live in fear.
America’s adults owe at least that to our children — all of them.
UPDATE: Here are the phone numbers that we need to call - today - to tell our representatives that we need sane gun laws.
White House: 202-456-1111
US Representatives & Senators: 202-224-3121
I’ve gotten through to everyone, and was just told by the staffer of my conservative Republican Senator (Mark Kirk) that they’ve gotten “a lot of calls on this today.”