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On Poverty And Gun Death

I wrote about the correlation between gun violence and economic insecurity:

Even in cities with strong gun laws, the correlation holds. Buzzfeed notes that “the average rate of gun deaths in Chicago’s five poorest neighborhoods was over 12 times the rate in its least poverty-stricken.” A map of murders in Washington, D.C. shows that killings hardly ever occur in the city’s wealthy western swath of neighborhoods.

Mind you, this is correlation and not causation. But there’s plenty of reason to believe that poverty leads to gun violence and greater economic security decreases it.

In his classic study of inner city Philadelphia, sociologist Elijah Anderson demonstrates how racism, social alienation, and the absence of economic opportunity combine to create a “code of the street” in which wielding the “credible threat of violence” is the only way to ensure one’s safety. Needless to say, the code leads to a pattern of confrontation and killing.

“Only by reestablishing a viable mainstream economy in the inner city, particularly one that provides access to jobs for young inner-city men and women, can we encourage a positive sense of the future,” Anderson wrote.

Continued at Generation Progress.

On Aurora

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My morning yoga class today observed a moment of silence for the victims of Friday’s Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. My mind wandered immediately: amid the countless acts of violence that occur regularly in the United States and the world, why have we singled this one out for special mourning?

The glaring aggression of the act and the scale of the damage might explain some of the public shock. (Twelve were killed and scores were wounded.) But such a casualty count isn’t unheard of; just last week, the Syrian government reportedly killed over 100 civilians, and that’s just one example of many from across the globe. Such massacres inspire condemnation from politicians, but not solemn reflection from citizens.

I don’t mean to be totally cynical about this. In a very real sense, the midnight film screening at Aurora is “closer to home” than any distant Middle Eastern battlefield. How do we conceive of “closeness,” though? There have been six murders this month in Washington, DC, but residents who live in the city’s safe and prosperous neighborhoods continue their lives with little sense that the shootings occurred close to home.

After the September 11th attacks, Slavoj Zizek argued that most Americans considered themselves an island exempt from such violence. (“Things like this don’t happen here!”) In a similar way, maybe the Aurora attack has jarred our nation’s sense of boundaries. Killings in an Arab warzone or urban ghetto? Sure. Killings at a movie that millions will see this weekend? A lot more people are now thinking “That could have been me.”

For that reason, incidents like Aurora provide valuable insight into where we draw the line between “us” and “them.” It’s also an occasion for us to ask how such a line should be drawn. Can we manage to avoid drawing it at all?

Photo from Time.