Today, the children and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT return to class. It’s been three weeks and I still feel uncomfortable saying the name of the school because of the unspeakable crimes committed there. I stopped watching news coverage when the first funerals began. I just didn’t want anymore details. I didn’t want to know more about the deaths or what the killer was thinking or what types of guns he used. I couldn’t look at the memorials or hear the stories of their lives before this awful tragedy. I wish that I did not know the ages, the names of the victims. I wish that I had not seen their faces… because I wish that it had not happened.
They were too young, too small and there were too many. Their deaths were out of order, revealing the chaos of violence and its cyclical nature. And while there were no reports of the killer’s funeral or that of his mother’s, his and her deaths are a tragic loss as well. None of it should have happened.
Because the crimes are so unbelievable and unthinkable, even causing an emotional response from President Barack Obama during his remarks from the White House regarding the shootings, I cannot believe that anyone would want to compare it to another or in some way suggest that the grief that the families and community are suffering are not as great as the grief experienced in this or that city or town or state. But, this is exactly what happened. Civil rights leader and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., professor and author, Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and author and television host, Tavis Smiley all compared the Newtown murders with the murders of “black and brown people.” They suggested that though the sadness and attention were warranted, it is no different from and/or is a normal occurrence in communities that are populated by African and Hispanic or Latin Americans and consequently, should not be given special attention. Instead of “mourning with those who mourn,” each of these men saw it as an opportunity to use the caskets of these victims as their soapboxes (Romans 12.15).
Jackson said during a recent Saturday Morning Forum aired on the Word Network, “Twenty- seven in Newtown and as of last night, five hundred in Chicago.” Dyson said on the Melissa Harris- Perry Show on MSNBC, “But the reality is that we’ve become accustomed to believing that little black and brown kids, and poor white kids, in various spots across our landscape are due this kind of violence. ‘We’re surprised it happened here. It’s not supposed to happen (in Newtown),’ which means by implication, that it’s supposed to happen in Detroit, in Oakland, in California, in L.A. and the like. And I think that’s the tragedy here… (emphasis added). He says later, “And then finally, what’s interesting here is that some of the authority figures who rush to help our brothers and sisters in Newtown, you know the police people who are seen as helpers, in those communities (“communities of color and poor white communities”) about which we speak, much of the violence, a significant portion of that violence is executed at the behest of a state authority, whether a police person or the like, against those vulnerable people. And there’s a lack of cultural empathy (for these victims). Tavis Smiley echoed much of the same during an interview on Jay Leno. But, this is not a matter to be compared. It is not an issue to be debated, an incident to be coupled with the slew of violent acts committed in recent years as examples for arguments for or against gun control and it is certainly not an occasion for racial or cultural comparisons.
I wish that these men wouldn’t hadn’t made such callous statements. The fact that two of them are ordained Christian clergy but were unable to offer responses that were pastoral or Christlike to the victims is also troubling. The real tragedy is and always has been the loss of the lives, hopes and dreams of all those involved. Nothing can or should attempt to take away from that.