Not Worthy of National Attention: The NOLA Mother’s Day Mass Shootings
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)
Amid the celebration of moms across the nation (amid the passage of policies that directly and indirectly hurt so many moms), America was once again reminded that all moms and all people are not celebrated equally; all lives are not worthy of similar mourning and attention. In New Orleans, 19 people, including 2 children, were shot at a Mother’s Day Celebration.
Hamilton Nolan reflected on the narrative that has already emerged (can you imagine how many stories about mothers celebrating with their children would have been on the air had this occurred in West Los Angeles or Manhattan, NY), offering a powerful comparison to the Boston marathon bombing:
A couple of disaffected young men in search of meaning drift into radical Islam and become violent. A couple of disaffected young men in search of meaning drift into street crime and become violent. A crowd of innocent people attending the Boston marathon are maimed by flying shrapnel from homemade bombs. A crowd of innocent people attending a Mother’s Day celebration in New Orleans are maimed by flying bullets. Two public events. Two terrible tragedies. One act of violence becomes a huge news story, transfixing the media’s attention for months and drawing outraged proclamations from politicians and pundits. Another act of violence is dismissed as the normal way of the world and quickly forgotten.
The juxtaposition of Boston and New Orleans is striking given the extent of death, given the violence that occurred within ritualized spaces, and given how each is a communal gathering space. Of course one doesn’t have to travel down South to New Orleans or West to Chicago to see the hypocrisy in the separate and unequal narratives. The lack of national attention afforded to violence in Roxbury, Mass; the lack of interventions in the form of jobs, reform to the criminal justice system, investment in education, and economic development is a testament to the very different ways violence registers in the national imagination. Roxbury doesn’t enliven narratives of humanity but instead those dehumanizing representations.
Yet, don’t we need to extend the comparison to Newtown, Aurora, and Milwaukee? Remixing the above: A couple of disaffected young men in search of meaning drift into spree shootings and become violent. Flying bullets wound crowds of innocent people attending a movie, going to school, or praying at their local temple. How is the reaction to Newtown and New Orleans, to Boston and Milwaukie, and to Aurora and Chicago an indicator of who we expect to commit violence, where we expect to be safe, who we see as a victim, and where we see violence as normalized and where it is exceptional?
One comment in the thread made the link between Boston, Newtown (Aurora), and New Orleans in a profound way:
The difference is, of course, that the media and the public focus on Things That Could Happen to Middle Class White People. Bombs placed at a marathon or a plane hitting a building or a gunman mowing down people in Newtown, Connecticut or Aurora, Colorado are things that happened to middle class white people and show the other white people that it could happen to them. Crime is somehow not supposed to happen to middle class white people; it’s supposed to happen to black people.
Whereas violence is supposed to happen in Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans, because of “culture of poverty,” because of single parents, because of dystopia and nihilism, because of warped values, gangs, and purported pathologies, the Boston Marathon, an Aurora movie theater, or a Newtown school are re-imagined as safe. These are places and spaces immune from those issues.
The normalization of violence in inner cities is why the suburbs exist; it is why police work to keep violence from entering into those suburban safety zones; it is why police guard the borders, making sure the wrong people don’t cross into the idyllic homeland of the American Dream. It is why white middle-class America avoids “those” communities or activities presumed to be dangerous (or go during the right time with the right people); it is why the white middle-class America reacts when those spaces that are presumed to be safe are simply not.
The movie theater, the school, and the marathon are symbols of Americana and therefore desirable, pure, and the embodiment of goodness. As such, the violence that happens in these “otherwise safe” enterprises and places occurs because of the entry of “dangerous” and threatening people. Outsiders enter into otherwise safe and idealized spaces.