Only a few months ago, a 24-year old male shot up a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing twelve people and wounding 59. It was hard not be chilled by the thought of how even an innocent trip to the movie theater isn’t safe from the violence of this society.
And now, this past Friday, we have learned that even an elementary school, filled with young kids learning to read and write and cut and paste isn’t safe from this violent society we live in. This time, a 20-year old walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut and opened fire on little children, killing 20 kids and six adults. The children were six and seven years old.
Newtown, Connecticut is a small, wealthy New England town about 80 miles northeast of New York City. It has been ranked as one of the safest places to live in the U.S. This town isn’t just horrified that this shooting took place in an elementary school but also that it could happen in an area filled with wealthy families, in supposedly one of the safest places to live.
It’s not easy to hear about a tragedy like this and feel anything but horrified, saddened, and speechless. But as shocking as this mass shooting is, as tragic at is, and as deeply saddening as it is, what’s worse is that it is not surprising. This year alone there have been at least 16 mass shootings, killing 88 people. These are all tragedies but they are not uncommon and they are certainly not beyond explanation.
The sad truth is that we live in such a violent society that there are no safe places free from its violence. In the poorest cities in the U.S., about 6000 youth will have been gunned down this year. Hundreds of them will be under the age of twelve. And this violence is on-going, year after year. It takes place at schools, in our homes, in our neighborhoods – anywhere young, poor working class youth live. When so many young people can’t help but feel as if society has failed them, thrown them away, slammed the door to their futures – this sort of violence is all too common.
And consider the frequent stories about hysterical, stressed out adults, who after losing their jobs or their homes, shot themselves after murdering their families. Or the tens of thousands who commit suicide every year, finding no way out of their depression. For U.S. veterans, 18 commit suicide every day – more soldiers have died from suicide than combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Is this violence really a mystery in a country with one of the most violent militaries in history? The U.S. military has destroyed the lives of millions of people living in Iraq and Afghanistan, even bombing entire villages, weddings, funerals, hospitals. This is a military that regularly carries out torture and assassination, often by Americans who sit behind computer screens, shielded from the faces of the innocent people they daily drop bombs on through drone aircrafts. Is all this violence really that different from the violence in Connecticut?
Soon after the shooting in Connecticut, President Obama was on television, teary-eyed, telling us that we should be broken hearted by this tragedy and we should hold our children a little tighter. And soon after, we were reminded by others in the media that these tragedies, no matter how terrifying, no matter how common, are not the result of the society we live in but only the result of crazy individuals.
Who couldn’t be broken hearted by this horrific event? Who isn’t broken hearted for the families of these innocent victims? Of course we should be broken hearted by the deaths of 20 little kids, ripped away from their parents forever. Of course, we should be broken hearted by the tragic violence that took these lives away.
But we should also be broken hearted by the daily violence of this system we live in. These deaths, these murders, these suicides, these bombings of innocents, they are more than just tragedies – they are the frequent outcomes of living in a society that is incapable of providing for the needs of the people who live in it. And that isn’t just heartbreaking – it’s an outrage.