FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Sandy Hook and What Counts As Catastrophe

I cannot stop consuming news about the horror of Friday morning in Sandy Hook Elementary. The slow drip of facts and numbers is overwhelming but I cannot stop myself from seeking out more. Hardly anyone I speak to even wants to repeat aloud the details that make the floor fall away under me: the number of times each victim was shot, their incredibly young age, the matricide that seems to have been the day’s first evil. There is a sense, from Obama, from cable news, even from the NRA’s silent Twitter feed, that something is different this time.

But as the stories proceed and the grim tide of gun death statistics roll over me, I keep wondering why is this particular act of violence is causing me and many others to mark it as a unique catastrophe. The answers, of course, are obvious: so many dead, so young, so fast, so unexpected in this safe community. But given the unending daily roll of violence in America including deaths by guns, those differences seem quickly swallowed by an ocean of grieving parents, children and lovers.

In a country where 84 people are killed by guns everyday, why does it take concentrations of deaths in time and space to draw our attention and shove a fist in our guts? The cold statistics of gun violence in America have been endlessly repeated over the last 72 hours. At least 30,000 a year dead. At least 70,000 a year injured. These numbers mean so little. But that is 30,000 families every year who have felt that gaping hole in their lives that 26 families in Newtown, Connecticut now feel.

The unspeakable catastrophe of violence was no less real or massive for those other families around the country but for me, for us, it takes the spectacle of the mass shootings, concentrated horrors to spark protests and debates. From poverty and disease to environmental destruction and inequality, only a small fraction of the days violence is exceptional and deemed worthy of notice but that meager total makes up the bulk of what we know as “news.” The constant drip of violence becomes a normal, everyday condition; a flood that arrives so slowly that our barriers can always keep up, our walls of numbness heightened, until a disaster like Sandy Hook arrives.

But it is hardly controversial to say that those small everyday violences, even “average” gun deaths, are ignored when dispersed over time and space. We must also confront another explanation: that the emphasis placed on Sandy Hook and mass shooting like it represent an injection of vulnerability into white, affluent spaces that use their perceived safety to define themselves against the black inter-city.

I keep using the word “our” and “we” as if my experience of newly increased feelings of community and personal vulnerability are universal. But I speak from the position of a white man who can walk through life without visible markings of disability, queerness or poverty. My body is not nearly as likely to be struck by bullets as many other bodies in this country. To have unique and new feelings of vulnerability created by the news of Sandy Hook, to be so consumed by the story and media spectacle is in many ways a reflection of the presumption of safety I have enjoyed my entire life.

55 unarmed Black men and women were killed by police and vigilantes in the United States in just the first six months of this year, according to a recent report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Those crimes are more dispersed by time and space than Friday’s massacre and, due both to the identity of the aggressor and the color of the victim, they are regarded as on face less awful, less mournable than the children of Sandy Hook. Yet to the parents left alive, to the children and husbands and wives they left at home, that gaping hole is a larger disaster than any on cable news.

What counts as catastrophe is not only determined by the media machine but also by what we find ourselves overcome by and what we allow ourselves to cry over. What counts as catastrophe is as political as it is emotional. We cannot always control what causes the words to get stuck in our throat, nor should be try to repress or belittle that experience, but we can ask why and use those answers to shape how we act. The “we” that does not already feel this vulnerability can use the feelings we discover to try to cultivate a sensitivity towards more mundane, more common place, more socially acceptable acts of violence. In doing so I hope that “we” can become better be able to reflect upon and act against both racialized death and violence in all its forms.

Dylan Quigley is a writer and debate coach for Dartmouth College. He lives in Cambridge, Mass.  

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail