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The inequality of human life

By Julianne Malveaux

The national support for the victims of the recent Colorado shootings is great. However, if we believe in the equivalency of life, what about the lives of young men in Chicago, where there have been more deaths than in Afghanistan so far this year. While the hospitals in Aurora say they will cover hospital bills for those without insurance, who will cover bills for those who are hospitalized after a drive-by? We mourn some deaths and ignore others, which suggests that some life is valued and some life is cheap.

Does it have anything to do with media attention? In Tuscaloosa, Ala., a crazed man walked into a bar looking for “a Black man.” He shot a man who did not know him.  He also wounded 17 other people.  Why has this story received only limited national attention?

If we spend a minute watching any news, we have heard about Veronica Moser, the 6-year-old who was massacred in Aurora.  We’ve seen pictures of her smiling face and of her playing.  Certainly we can all mourn the tragedy of her young life being snuffed out by a madman.  Still, some young lives are valued, while others are not. One of the young deaths that rocked my soul was the 2004 murder of Chelsea Cromartie, who sat in her grandmother’s window playing with her dolls when she was killed by a stray bullet.  She wrote, in a classroom exercise, that she was an “amazing girl.”  We don’t have to go back to 2004 to find a child’s death.  Two weeks ago, Heaven Sutter, who had just had her hair styled for a trip to Disney World, was shot. Again the culprit was a stray bullet.

Details of the lives of those who are killed humanizes them and tugs at our heartstrings.  In Aurora, we have learned about a man whose wife just gave birth, about another who died saving his girlfriend, of a young woman who missed a Toronto mass murder by a few seconds, aspired to be a sports journalist, and was killed in Aurora.  Rarely do we hear about the lives of those who are killed in the inner city, about the lives of Chelsea Cromartie and Heaven Sutter.

The disproportionality of death commentary hits home when one remembers the stories in the New York Times after September 11, 2001.  For months, postage stamp sized photos accompanied short but revealing blurbs about those who lost their lives.  On one hand, the blurbs were humanizing.  For me, though, they were a reminder of the equivalency of life and the lives we choose to ignore.

There were 12,000 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2008.  Eighty percent of the gun deaths in the world’s 23 richest countries happened in the United States, as did 87 percent of the deaths of children.

In the same year that there were 12,000 gun deaths in the United States, there were a scant 11 gun-related deaths in Japan.  Indeed, while the United States has 90 privately held guns per 100 people, the next largest per capita rate of privately held guns is in Yemen.  In contrast, China has three guns per 100 people.

The 12 people who lost their lives represent a fraction of 1 percent of those who die from gun violence annually.

If we can’t limit guns, can we at least regulate the distribution of ammunition?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.

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