After Aurora: Why Aren't We Talking About Heaven Sutton?
Shuhei Yamamoto joined Teach For America’s staff in 2007 and moved to Chicago, where he still resides.
In the wake of the Aurora shooting, our nation rightfully felt compelled to speak, sparking important dialogue surrounding violence, gun control, and mental health. It has become clear to the general public yet again—as it did after Virginia Tech and Columbine—that gun violence is a crisis in the United States. The Aurora tragedy is undoubtedly one of the most-talked-about American news stories of the year.
Between 8 p.m. July 20—the Friday of the Aurora shooting—and 9 a.m. July 23, 31 people were shot on the South and West Sides of Chicago. Three of them were killed. This news received little attention outside of local media outlets.
The next night, in the same neighborhoods, 13 people were shot. Six were shot within a span of 15 minutes, including one 17-year-old boy who died. He was reportedly hanging out with friends in the park.
As of July 25, Chicago has surpassed 300 murders and 1,500 people shot in 2012. Why hasn’t this violence received the same media attention that Aurora has rightfully received? Are we able to tolerate a couple of shooting deaths every night? Does our nation reserve its grief and anger for isolated incidents? Numbers alone may influence public perception of these shootings, but the real answer is elsewhere: race and class.
When fatal shootings occur relentlessly in the black and Latino neighborhoods of the South and West Sides of Chicago, they are accepted as inevitable. As everyday news. When non-fatal muggings occur in Chicago’s white and affluent downtown shopping areas, there is outrage and demand for swift justice. We have deemed certain cities, institutions, and neighborhoods as acceptable places for violence to occur, while others are not. We have perpetuated the construction of spaces for violence through a racial lens.
Why does this matter for education? Leonetta Sanders, the principal of Harper High School in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, kept track of the number of current and former students who had been shot during this past school year: 27. She has attended eight of their funerals.
During the 2011-12 school year, 319 Chicago Public Schools students were shot, 24 fatally. This is just while class is in session—violence spikes radically during the summer. Black and Latino children on the South and West Sides are surrounded by gun violence on a daily basis, meaning their most basic need of safety is being brutally ignored. How can our students achieve their highest potential when their reality is permeated by violence?
Heaven Sutton, a 7-year-old girl in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, was shot to death in front of her home on June 27. She was a rising second grader. Let’s talk about her.
Shuhei Yamamoto joined Teach For America’s staff in 2007 and moved to Chicago, where he still resides. In his role as specialist of digital engagement, Shuhei is responsible for Teach For America’s social media presence, combining his passion for social justice with his love for social media.