“Are there any safe places left in America?” Nicole Hockley, the mother of a six-year old child who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary asked in a Washington Post column that ran yesterday.
The shock of the Charleston tragedy came especially hard for Hockley. The most recent mass killing in a long string of them came on June 17 — the last day of classes at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“My Facebook news feed was filled with pictures of smiling children looking forward to the fun summer days ahead,” she wrote. “One picture in particular made me cry. A group of boys, many of them familiar faces, had just finished third-grade. They were my son Dylan’s classmates, but Dylan wasn’t in the picture.”
The anniversary of her loss, coupled with yet another American tragedy playing out over the daily news, led her to ask that simple question.
Yet unlike Hockley, I cannot “reject the narrative that it is hopeless and we are helpless.” My own experience of becoming an active, informed citizen in the midst of all the turmoil has taught me otherwise. In 2013, the most recent year that FBI numbers are available for, there were 14,196 murders in the U.S., or about one murder every 37 minutes. Those statistics, while slightly improved compared to previous years, are still shockingly high compared with every other country in the world. In the meantime, gun and ammo sales across the country have spiked this year, a recipe which past studies have correlated with increases in gun crimes in the long run.
It is hopeless. We are helpless.
It’s not just traditional street crime we have to be mindful of. Starting with the shooting at Columbine, which was a major event for my generation’s middle school years, here’s a quick list of places that we now know to be unsafe from mass shootings and lone wolves:
Last year, a high school friend of mine was shot and killed inside his own home, after he walked in on a robbery in process. One of my friend’s roommates had left a gun unlocked in his room, and the suspect shot my friend with that very gun, which he found on the scene.
So add your own home to that list.
Sometimes, I’m awoken by the sounds of gunfire in my mixed-income neighborhood, situated just on the other side of the tracks from a major upscale development in Miami. Not too long ago, there was a murder-suicide across the street from my apartment. The man shot his girlfriend, then held the building, including some of my friends in it, hostage for the whole night, until he blew his own brains out.
On my way to work the following morning, I stepped outside to find my building cordoned off by yellow police tape, my front stoop part of the crime scene.
I asked an officer what happened, and she filled me in. For a second I thought deeply on it — the fact that this happened across the street, while I lay oblivious a few short steps away.
And then I shrugged it off, and went on with my day. Because collectively, that’s what we do. Violence is ubiquitous in our national culture. It’s a fact of our history, and a continual fact of our existence.
We can’t, and we shouldn’t accept this reality. But we have to cope with it. There are no safe places in America.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.