December 22, 2012

Tragedy spotlights grim urban reality

Those who have toiled years to reduce senseless shootings in cities finally hope to see action.

By JESSE WASHINGTON The Associated Press

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Pallbearers carry 4-year-old Roberto Lopez Jr.’s casket outside Our Lady of Angels Church in Los Angeles on Jan. 23, 2009. The boy was shot in the chest as he and his 5-year-old sister walked in a gang-plagued neighborhood. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 299 children under the age of 10 were killed by guns in 2008 and 2009.

2009 File Photo/The Associated Press

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This Nov. 29, 2011, file photo shows a bullet hole in a window of a car at a liquor store parking lot in Oakland, Calif., after a shooting. A hail of gunfire along the Oakland street left eight people wounded, including a 1-year-old boy.

2011 File Photo/The Associated Press

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"But in all honestly, because (Newtown) was a suburban, very small quiet town where normally people feel nothing happens, that does make some degree of difference," he said.

Drummond, the columnist, said in an interview that even many people who live in violent urban areas, which are predominantly black and Hispanic, have almost come to accept gun deaths.

At community meetings in her own East Oakland neighborhood, where a half-dozen people have been fatally shot in the past six months, Drummond has heard residents pose more questions about weed removal or gutter cleaning than stopping the violence.

"If a white cop kills a black man, there's this huge outcry. But when you have the vast majority of young black men being killed by other young black men, you don't get that kind of response," said Drummond, who is black.

"In order to look at that you have to look at yourself," she said. "You have to say, 'There are issues in this community.'"

Big cities have long dealt with the perception that gun violence is an urban problem. John Feinblatt, who works for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is chief policy adviser for the Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization, said that Newtown has spurred action because of the age and number of victims, and that they were killed in school.

"There is no doubt that something has changed," Feinblatt said. "America's heart has been broken."

At the Violence Policy Center, a national organization that combats gun violence, an unprecedented surge of donations has arrived since the Newtown killings, as well as many emails from people asking how they could help, said Executive Director Josh Sugarmann.

Why hasn't this happened before, during decades of urban violence?

"There's an element of race to it," said Sugarmann, who has been working against gun violence since 1983. "There's a belief among all too many people about young black males, if you're shot you're in a gang or someplace you shouldn't be, or a bad kid doing things you shouldn't be doing. But in Chicago, there are reports of kids walking to school getting gunned down."

"The fact that these killings can't shape people's view that something needs to be done," he said, "is incredibly disturbing."

 

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