What About Binghamton?
In his remarks to the Newtown community, President Barack Obama said, “this is the fourth time [during his presidency] we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting.” His count is off by any estimation; and the attention being paid to some shootings and not to others may provide clues as to why the country has been unable to address the issue of gun violence for so long.
In reality, there have been at least fourteen mass shootings since January 2009, when Obama was sworn in (not counting several that have occurred since that timeline was made, including the recent arson shootings in Webster, NY). The most prominent of these, which have been mentioned recently in the same sad breath as Newtown, are Fort Hood, Tuscon, and Aurora.
But what about Binghamton?
On April 3, 2009, a 40-year-old naturalized immigrant opened fire on a community center in Binghamton, NY that served the immigrant community, killing 13 in addition to himself, and wounding several others. It remains the eighth deadliest shooting in US history.
At the time, President Obama said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the “senseless act of violence.” The president was traveling in Europe and the time, and could not visit the scene.
While I certainly remember headlines from this horrible event, it did not create the same reaction and media domination as the other recent shootings- and none have had the overriding effect that Newtown has held on our collective consciousness.
The age of the victims and their numbers are certainly big factors. The massacre of twenty children, ages six and seven, is an unprecedented act of violence against some of the most vulnerable members of society.
But similar cases have not generated similar attention and resolve for change. When five Amish schoolgirls were killed by a deranged gunman in 2006, media attention focused largely on the immediate forgiveness of the Amish community. A shooting at a senior citizens nursing home in North Carolina that left seven residents (and one nurse) dead in 2009 garnered little national attention.
I don’t think these disparities are emblematic of systemic or overt prejudice; but I do think they make a sad comment on our collective sense of what hits close to home. Middle-aged men slaughtering immigrants, the sick, and members of isolated communities is tragic, but removed from our own immediate experience. The threat seems distant; it does not hit our evolutionary panic button. Only when violence hits a “safe” scene recognizable to wider swaths of Americans (a movie theater, an army base, a good school) is attention paid.
But the people who died in Binghamton, NY, Nickel Mines, PA, and Carthage, NC were humans just like anyone else in the nation- and whether they were full citizens or not, they were Americans. Their deaths should have struck us as just as tragic, shameful, and avoidable as any.
Maybe when we learn that lesson, we can also address the gun violence that kills thousands in suicide and street violence every year.
[Image via ROCA/Daily News]