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Opinion: When a shooting is not a shooting

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In the early evening of Wednesday the 22nd, a shooting happened at the corner of 3rd and Pine in downtown Seattle. This wasn’t a mass shooting. This was three people shooting at each other, poorly. And many other people being hit. A “mass shooting” is when someone enters a crowded public place, or at times a home or a workplace, and shoots as many people as they can before something stops them. The El Paso Walmart shooting was a mass shooting. The shooting in Westlake yesterday was a shootout. 

In the past, no one cared about those kinds of shootings until they were being talked about as “mass shootings”. They got noticed when mainstream and social media were able to capitalize on the concept of fear–the fear associated with not being able to venture into public without becoming a victim. Protecting yourself against mass shootings has become a profitable industry while protecting yourself against a shootout is the thankless work of mainly people of color in poor communities across the country. 

Last summer the Central District saw a short upsurge in gun violence. Mainly interpersonal, few people outside of the neighborhood heard about it. My dad did not text me when someone shot up the block near MLK and Jefferson. Because he never even heard about it. People were bringing the bullet filled bodies of their friends and dumping them at the doors of the Cherry Hill Swedish Emergency room and driving off. They were afraid of becoming implicated in the shooting itself, of being put on the ground in handcuffs and their car impounded as their friends bled. And no one heard about it outside of this city, and I wonder how many people in the city even really noticed. 

1 person died last night, and 7 others were injured. One was a 9 year old boy. This was a tragedy, regardless of who it happened to. But the disparity in rhetoric between this incident, this “mass shooting” and the violence of the Central District, or south Seattle in general, is telling. Yes, the people who were needlessly shot yesterday were “innocent bystanders”, but the people who have been caught in the crossfires of gun violence in their neighborhoods for generations are also “innocent bystanders”. To not speak of them in the same vein and with the same verbiage implies that at the root, you think the people caught in the drive-by, or the shootout somehow deserved it. That their associations or their neighborhood made them somehow less than innocent.

This is not a call for stricter gun laws, or tighter legislation. Making things more illegal seems to do little to curb gun violence and would have had no bearing on the outcome of the shooting in Westlake. I also don’t think the state gets to have a death grip on the concept of violence, or decide who gets to own what-historically, this has not worked well for poor people, or people of color in general. This is a call for honesty, and for a recognition that class and race are far bigger factors in the conversation around guns and gun violence than most will admit to. And the media has become an active participant in that dynamic, possibly it is the largest player involved. 

News outlets of integrity need to start speaking to the roots and the reasons of gun violence, and the systemic ways in which power in this country is perpetuating that violence instead of using scare tactics and fear mongering to get clicks. Making people afraid so that they will read your “news story” on the tragic victims is a low blow tactic that anyone involved in journalism should be ashamed of. And those who are doing the same work on social media platforms should bear that burden in kind. 

There is something deeply wrong with the world we live in, but it’s not some violent streak found in certain neighborhoods and certain demographics as everyone from the center to the right would have you believe. It is horrific that 8 people were shot yesterday, but it is also a horror that the SPD shot someone in Belltown just before; that the El Paso police department had to issue statements urging gunshot victims to come to the hospital with the assurance that ICE would not be waiting for them, and the fact that all over the country people are picking the bloody bodies of their friends up off the ground and driving them to the hospital–where they get left on the sidewalk because people fear what the police will do to them if they are found with a gunshot wound victim. 

The issue at hand isn’t the amount of bullets you can load in a magazine or who is old enough for a pistol, or even really who makes it to the 10 o’clock news or not. The issue is a structural one, where the lives of some are valued over the lives of others. As long as that is the dominant force inside of the culture we create than the awful will continue, and the mass shootings and the shootouts will increase.We need to rethink the very way our society is structured and come up with something better. Where there isn’t fear to be manipulated and violence isn’t woven into the structure of our lives. I don’t know where that stops, but I know it begins with questioning every part of how we got here in the first place. 

One Comment

  1. Dan 01/27/2020

    Great opinion piece. Very well written.

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