On Mother’s Day, 19 people were injured in a mass shooting in a New Orleans parade. The shooter was not apprehended until later that week, and his arrest was not made public until Wednesday night. By early Thursday morning, five more suspects had been arrested, one as an additional shooter and the other four for harboring the shooters.
I check the Daily Beast and NPR multiple times per day. I also peruse whatever interesting articles come up on Reddit or my Facebook feed. It was only the last that informed me about this shooting, when somebody linked to an article asking why people were not getting upset about this. In the past few days, the story has been in the very bottom of the extended Cheat Sheet at the Daily Beast, far below the top 10 headlines. The news barely seemed to notice that innocent people celebrating their mothers in a community parade were violently shot at, and only retained their lives by virtue of luck and talented first responders. The perpetrators of this crime were at large for quite some time, yet the news media did not rise up in collective alarm.
The lack of compassion for urban violence in America is astounding and disgusting. It should not matter that such shootings have less of an “Oh, this could happen to me!” effect. Violence is violence, regardless of whether it is terrorism or gang-related or anything. Do you think that when a six-month old baby is killed in Chicago, family and friends just accept such senseless violence as a fact of urban life? To them, it is just as tragic as the Boston bombing or any act of terrorism. But in suburban and rural towns across America, people shrug and say, “Eh, it’s Chicago (or Detroit or New Orleans or Los Angeles).”
The death and injury of innocents because of violent assault, gun-related or otherwise, should be treated and respected with compassion regardless of its origin. That does not mean that news reports should invade the lives of these victims, or spend hours and days poring over the mindsets and personal lives of violent criminals. There is a difference between unconstructive and disrespectful sensationalizing (e.g. the focus on the Aurora shooter), and respectfully compassionate coverage and acknowledgement of the intense pain violent crimes bring to individuals.
Regardless of where they live, people are people. Urban violence is just as harrowing and unacceptable as any violence. I am choosing not to weigh in on the debate over gun policy here, nor stating a political opinion. Instead, I want to ask why it takes a tragedy like the Newtown, Conn., shootings to jolt America’s public consciousness. I want to ask why deaths from urban violence do not sicken people across the country and make them cry out loudly for reform. Quite frankly, something that is “strictly an act of street violence,” as Mary Beth Romig of the FBI labeled the New Orleans shooting, is not any less of a tragedy than a mass shooting in a suburban public space.
Obviously, we cannot give the same level of attention or emotion to every tragedy. As humans, we do not have the capacity to constantly feel others’ pain so deeply. However, realizing the limits of our emotion is not a free pass to show an astounding lack of compassion for urban violence. Just as no runners at the Boston Marathon expected what happened that day, nobody at the Mother’s Day parade in New Orleans expected a shootout. The location does not change the humanity and innocence of those attending the parade.
Simply put, the national news media as a whole failed astoundingly in their coverage of this tragedy. There were more articles and comments on Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy than there were of the Mother’s Day shooting. I do not advocate for the sensationalizing of tragedies, nor the morbid fascination America has with mass murderers or psychopaths. However, for the safety and knowledge of the American public, mass shootings need to be reported on. They should be given equal attention in the media, whether they are “strictly street violence” or terrorist attacks. Unprovoked and random acts of violence are not okay, and should not be normalized nor dismissed as urban warfare. Victims deserve compassion, regardless of where they live.