After Sandy Hook and Webster, N.Y., the real 'monster' only community can heal
After the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn. and now the shooting ambush of firefighters in Webster, N.Y., public dialogue has focused on the world's evil. But the real 'monster' is the abuse and neglect that kills kids every day – stopped by strong communities, not guns.
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After all, Adam Lanza’s mother – and first victim – had a whole stash of guns. She was, in NRA CEO Wayne Pierre’s language, “the good guy with a gun.”Skip to next paragraph
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What Adam Lanza inflicted on Sandy Hook Elementary School, on his own mother, was a freakish version of the violence that presents itself to us every day – in his case, compounded by mental illness and semi-automatic weapons. But in every community there are children exposed to violence – child abuse, incest, neglect, poverty. Adults are the perpetrators of that violence, and in many ways, it’s actually a more inconceivable tragedy than what happened in Newtown – diffuse and unspeakable. An unhinged young man massacres 20 children and we can’t help but feel the violence to our core; but every single week of the year, that many die because of abuse and neglect, and the loss largely goes unnoticed.
In the last couple of weeks, people have repeatedly said, “There are no words” that can give voice to the tragedy at Sandy Hook. But in fact, there have been so many words spoken – on loss, on community, on gun control, on mental illness. The kind of violence we really don’t seem to have the words for is the kind that happens every day – to kids suffering in toxic environments, to kids who are sexually violated by trusted adults, to kids shuffled from home to home in the foster care system.
What happened in Newtown reminds us of just how much our very survival depends on unspoken social contracts. We must trust perfect strangers not to endanger us and we must trust our neighbors and friends to see when we are faltering and reach out to us for help. We must trust them enough to ask for help in turn.
There may be kidnappers (although, statistically they are rarely strangers, à la the 80s mythology). And there may be gun violence (although, gun ownership is actually declining in the US overall). But more common than either of those, there will be potentially lifesaving community. People will reckon with their own capacities for violence, their avoidance of vulnerability, their own responsibility to create places and relationships where ugly truths can be spoken before they curdle and endanger.
And there will be children, watching us, the adults, to see what monsters we have made up – and what communities we have created as the real safeguard against what threatens us.
Courtney E. Martin is the author of “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists” and the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network. You can read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.