School Climate & Safety Opinion

Diary of a Mad Black Teacher: Part 2: Sandy Hook

By Marilyn Rhames — December 29, 2012 4 min read
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Last March I wrote an angry post about how some hoodlums tried to kill my younger sister. She was innocently going about her real estate work when she witnessed a drive by shooting and became a target. Miraculously, she escaped unharmed, but the masked assassins got away.

My post also explained how gun violence is a common part of my students’ lives. When a child’s loved one is murdered, it kills the spirit of the kid, as well. Chicago Public Schools is full of students with invisible gunshot wounds to the heart.

After publishing the piece, I got dozens of emails of sympathy. Several people gave me well-intentioned advice: Leave Chicago or move to a “safer” part of town.

While I appreciated their concern, it bothered me that people seem to have lost hope in the notion that civility can be restored to certain inner-city neighborhoods. Murder and crime has become the acceptable norm in working-class Black and Hispanic communities—though most of the residents are law-abiding citizens.

Move. No outcry for social justice.

Move. That was the single solution.

But evil doesn’t discriminate along racial or socio-economic lines. It plots and plans its attack, and when the opportunity is ripe, it strikes.

That’s what happened in the quintessential, white, all-American elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut two weeks ago. Evil paid them a visit, and 20 innocent children and 6 loving teachers died. A mother was killed in her sleep, and the assailant committed suicide. Most people in that well-to-do community were shocked that such a dastardly act could happen there.

I was deeply saddened, but not as surprised.

I live with the reality that at any moment something bad can happen. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, I’ve never had the privilege of asking, “How could something like that happen here?” Or saying, “That only happens over there.” That mode of thinking is nonsensical to me.

Yet, I do not walk around in fear. I strive to let my inner light shine, believing that my community is better off because I, and honest people like me, are in it. If all the good-guys leave, then who’s left?

When 7-year-old Heaven Sutton was gunned down at her candy and snow cone stand in front of her Chicago home in July, the whole nation should have been demanding that Congress devise a plan to address gun violence. Instead, I’m sure some people suggested that her grieving mother move.

On Dec. 26, Chicago reached its 500th homicide of the year—62 of them children like Heaven. And though they didn’t die, 440 children were shot in the city in 2012. Statistically speaking, it is safer to be a U.S. soldier in combat in Afghanistan than a resident of Chicago. Perhaps I should move my family there.

We cannot flee from guns and the violence they bring. It’s everywhere. Urban, Black, drug-dealing gang bangers have them. Suburban, mentally ill, spiritually devoid White boys have them. Old men who set their homes ablaze to ambush arriving firefighters have them. No place in America is truly “safe,” though we convince ourselves that where we live is.

This is not the only lie we tell ourselves. The media broadcasts disturbing images that turn four-year-old black boys into future criminals, not aspiring cops. (You must watch this clip!) Leading education experts brag that our nation’s public education system is “top-notch” and “world class,” trivializing the fact that half of the Black and Hispanic children, and a sizable number of rural Whites, are dropping out of school.

Are we one nation or two? The murders of 62 mostly minority children in Chicago this year were just as tragic and newsworthy as the 20 children killed in Sandy Hook. Had you heard about the former statistic? If we are to overcome this evil, we must be one America. An infection in one segment of our society will spread throughout the entire land if it is left untreated.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has changed the way many of us will embrace the New Year. Some of us will become champions of stricter gun control laws, particularly a ban on assault weapons. Others will take arms and lobby for increased school safety by having a police officer present in every school. Some will fight for increased funding for mental health services. While others, like myself, will become more fervent warriors in the prayer movement. The point is that people are moved to do something.

The heartbreaking attack in Connecticut has jostled America from her slumber, if only temporarily. It has burst the bubble of imaginary immunity people thought they had against random gun violence. (Though some, of course, will go on with their comfortable little lives, referring to the school shootings as an “isolated incident.”)

No one is advising residents of Sandy Hook to move. Instead thousands of people are joining hands, fighting back, and demanding better of their neighbors and public officials, debating practical ways to help fix the problem.

And so it must be with poor, minority children of Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. These kids don’t need to move. They need Americans to stand with them with the same compassion and resolve we are standing with the children of Sandy Hook—outraged by the violence and on a mission to stop it.

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.