Sidenote on some of the last post about different people’s struggles actually being Black people’s struggles co-opted.
Newtown CT isn’t all that far from New Haven, where I live and work and where most of my students live. It’s closer to Danbury than New Haven, but even still this is a pretty small state so it’s within an hour drive. But when Sandy Hook happened, they had never heard of Newtown. That’s intentional. Most other towns make sure to be as removed from the major cities (New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport) as possible. They stay in places that are geographically separated, they build ring-roads as borders, and in some cases, such as the city line near where our school is, they build physical walls because they’d rather lose potential business than have that business come from residents of public housing.
Nothing I’m not used to, coming from Chicago, and my students have lived with it their whole lives.
So all of a sudden there’s national attention on gun violence because—and some people may think this sounds heartless but it’s actually just our reality—wealthy white kids were killed. And need to be spared from ever again having that threat.
40 minutes away in New Haven, our homicide rate yearly is higher than that, except 2012 when it dropped sharply, thank goodness. But it’s still a threat that my kids live with daily.
And they know that that threat would never attract national attention.
Granted, people are attracted to sensational news—they could never imagine a mass killing—and ignore the day to day news that whittles us down. That much makes sense.
I had a conversation about all this the other day with one of my students, a quiet but incredibly observant, astute, and creative Puerto Rican young man who lives in the city. He made a few really good points:
- In terms of how the new gun control measures will affect youth, it’s more about adding on to the situation rather than taking factors out. So we have threats of violence in a single school that never had it, while POC schools have long had those threats, and the response is to add cops and security and other people who can arrest kids and who carry guns. The focus is less on deescalation as far as having guns and police state measures in POC young people’s environments.
- Police departments are getting the green light to get bigger guns (NHPD just happened to get the approval they’ve been pushing for to carry AR-15s in their trunks). That doesn’t scare people on the street from having guns—it pushes them to get even bigger guns. Then the cops have to outdo civilians, and it keeps going up and up, instead of deescalating.
- In Obama’s press conference about the new gun control laws, he was surrounded by little kids, mostly white kids, because that makes people get sappy and be more easily swayed. Those kids didn’t represent the youth in cities that have to deal with violence regularly.
So in the end, the attention is on keeping white kids safe, who are presumed innocent if they’re ever victims of violence. Their safety can be boosted by further criminalizing youth of color, and youth safety is only important when it affects white youth in isolated incidents. The rest are throwaway kids, and they know it.
So when people ask me why city youth “act up” (which, for starters, is often a racialized designation itself), I just need them to imagine what it would feel like to know you are a throwaway kid. To know that if violence is inflicted upon you, you’ll be assumed guilty as well rather than allowed to be an innocent victim of the crime. To know that adding safety in other kids’ environment means decreasing safety in POC kids’ environments.
Thinking about safety for youth of color has had me all kinds of messed up since something that happened at the beginning of this past summer, and it seems like it keeps getting worse and worse and more blatant.