Don’t shoot—he wants to grow up!


Was Bazelon’s aim true: On this morning’s front page, the New York Times reports on the homicide rate in Chicago.

The report features a photograph of a young black child in Chicago. We’ll guess that he’s eleven or twelve. He’s at a peace vigil, holding this sign:

“DON’T SHOOT. I want to grow up.”

Younger kids stand beside him.

For our money, Monica Davey’s report was a bit light on the information. In Chicago, homicides were up 16 percent from 2011, she says, even as overall crime in the city dropped. But how did the number of homicides in Chicago compare to the numbers from earlier decades? How does Chicago’s homicide rate compare to rates in other cities?

Davey skipped questions like that. She also skipped a comparison we expected to see—she made no comparison to the shootings in Newtown.

The child in Chicago who wants to grow up isn’t in the first grade. But why did the press corps react so strongly to Newtown’s killings as compared to the ongoing killings in Chicago? Some distinctions between the two situations are are obvious. But in the first few days after Newtown, Emily Bazelon offered a rumination about this topic at Slate.

I don’t respond the same way to city kids, Bazelon basically said:
BAZELON (12/15/12): I was on the train home from New York to Connecticut Friday afternoon when a woman sitting one row away and facing me got a text that made her gasp. She’d learned that a friend had a granddaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and it wasn’t clear if she was safe. The mutual friend who’d sent the text didn’t know one way or the other. That didn’t sound good: It was late in the day, several hours after the shooting that killed 20 children and six adults at the school.

The woman on the train pulled her little boy close and her eyes started tearing. Mine too. Outside the window, the nondescript brown landscape of Fairfield County rolled by. The woman got off the train before she found out the fate of her friend’s granddaughter. And of course I hoped, and for a moment prayed, that the girl was rattled but fine, one of the hundreds of kids whose parents rushed to the Newtown fire station to swoop them up with the most exquisite and intense relief. But just as naturally, I kept dwelling on the 20 families for whom fear had frozen into horror and then despair.

They could be us, and we could be them, right? It was so easy for me at least to feel that way, looking up Newtown’s suburban demographics: Family median income $100,000 a year, almost half the town families with children, nearly three-quarters married couples. I don’t live in the suburbs, but I live in a small-city neighborhood filled with two-parent families about 45 minutes from Newtown, and I have a son in elementary school. That was more than enough to share in the chill that spread through the country Friday. I wish I identified as much with the families of drive-by shootings of children in my city, but I don’t. I use class and, I’m sure, race to distance myself. That doesn’t work this time though.
We have continued to puzzle over Bazelon’s piece.

On the one hand, it’s abundantly clear that the nation’s elites care more about Newtown’s kids than about Chicago’s. Bazelon was surprisingly frank in bringing that story on home:

“I wish I identified as much with the families of drive-by shootings of children in my city,” she said. “But I don’t.” (She linked to this news report about the drive-by shooting of a one-year-old child in New Haven.)

On the whole, the nation seems to care more about those kids in Newtown than about that kid in Chicago. Regarding Bazelon’s statement, it’s odd to see someone be so frank about this fact and so unapologetic.

We’ve puzzled about that piece ever since. Today’s photo and slightly flat news report brought the piece to mind.

What Reverend Braxton said: Yesterday, as we waited to do a radio show, we listened to the panel discussion in the preceding hour. At one point, Rev. Brad Braxton, Senior Pastor at the Open Church in Baltimore, made us put down our book and listen.

Discussing the killings in Newtown, Rev. Braxton said we ought to be mourning the loss of the killer too. Latonia Valincia agreed; E. R. Shipp took a different view.

We listened to Braxton again today. This happens about halfway through.


  1. it makes sense that Bazelon can identify with those who are most like her. She takes precautions she can afford like living in a "safe" area, getting good childcare when she needs it, etc. She, like the Newtown parents, takes every reasonable precaution within her means to keep her family safe. When those precautions are not enough, one feels very vulnerable.

    Folks in poor neighborhoods also surely take precautions to keep their kids safe. But by living where they do - whether it's in any way voluntary or not - they cannot depend upon the sort of security Bazelon thinks she has. Living in a bad neighborhood, by definition, carries a host of risks.

  2. Also, she didn't say she didn't care about victims of drive-by shootings. Only that she could identify more with the Newtown parents.

    I don't think it's that damning.

  3. I think the presumption here is that nothing can be done about shootings in our ghettos, but something CAN be done about shootings in the suburbs.

    Right or wrong, it seems suburbanites believe the minions of law and order should do more.

    Of course, ghetto dwellers also think cops could a better job of protecting their kids.

    It reminds me of an incident that occurred in South Phoenix some years back.

    Residents complained to the police that gang bangers were harassing their kids after dark.

    The police stepped up activity in the neighborhoods, casually asking teenagers what they were doing in the streets after dark.

    Almost immediately, the residents started complaining that their kids were now being harassed by cops.

    As every good salesman knows, perception is reality.

  4. One can only guess at motivations. Here's one guess:

    The large number of murders in Chicago -- a city with strict gun control -- represents an argument against gun control. Chicago seems to show that gun control doesn't work. It's possible that pro-gun-control media don't want to focus on news that would argue against gun control.

    1. shows nothing of the kind. Gun control can only work well when guns are prohibited over a large region - more than one city, for example. We can't pretend that guns won't be brought into gun-free areas from surrounding states and regions that do allow all sorts of guns.

      If we had true gun control, including background checks of every gun purchase, and closed the gun show loophole, gun crimes in cities would drop. You can't have a patchwork system of gun control and no gun control and expect the system to work.

  5. You can't have a patchwork system of gun control and no gun control and expect the system to work.

    Bingo! Unfortunately, we can never have more than a patchwork system of gun control in this country. First of all, many states have large majorities who oppose gun control, so they will never implement it. Guns will move from state to state via criminal means. E.g. both New York City and New York State had very strict gun control laws for decades, yet plenty of criminals had guns in New York City.

    Also, "true gun control" is even more impossible now, because the Supreme Court has ruled that the right to bear arms is an individual right. Thus, overly strict gun control laws are un-Constitutional.

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