All Quiet on the Facebook Front: Urban Crime, Mass Shootings, and Pakistan

On December 16, approximately 130 children and 10 adults were killed in a school shooting in Pakistan. The reaction here in the States was… muted, even on social media like Facebook. Why?

Last summer, I started writing for The Daily Iowan, which is a newspaper run by University of Iowa students. I was an opinion columnist, which meant I could joke about “getting to be a journalist without actually having to do any research.”

But for my first column, I took it pretty seriously and wrote about the surge of mass shootings that had sprung up across the country around that time, as well as race/ethnicity and social class in regards to ignoring the gun violence that occurs on a daily basis. I said this in one of the last paragraphs:

“What is also remarkable is how we’ve come to accept [certain] types of gun violence as being a normal part of society. Or, if we don’t think it’s normal, we still choose to do nothing about it. It’s almost like there are areas of America where that type of crime is seen as being a given, and it’s not until that crime spills over certain borders that we start to worry and get uncomfortable.”

It’s true – we really make a huge fuss about mass shooting sprees, but we’ve become desensitized to the violence that happens every hour, every minute. And yes, you can bet your ass that skin color and money have to do with it.

The vast majority of the school shootings that shook the nation (and still shake their respective towns) took place in mostly white, middle class suburbs. People aren’t “supposed to” get shot in those types of places. I would know – I live in a predominantly white and middle to upper class neighborhood, and the cops have nothing better to do than be extra vigilant for… speeders.

The South Side of Chicago (the bad parts of the South Side, I mean), on the other hand, is a place we all look at (from a safe distance, of course) and shake our heads. We don’t like what’s happening to the people in shitty urban neighborhoods, but we don’t exactly care either. In our eyes, violence is just an inevitable part of their lives.

And that’s just a crummy mindset to have.

Pakistan is on the other side of the world, so by nature it’s hard to truly care about what happens there. As human beings, we show a remarkable ability to selectively choose when to feel empathy towards each other. I mean, it’s not a coincidence we care about our family members and friends more than we care about that one neighbor down the street we never interact with, much less a country we only hear about on the news.

Still, there was something disconcerting about the total lack of reaction on Facebook. I remember after the Boston Marathon bombing occurred and it seemed like every person logged onto Facebook or Twitter to post “RIP” or “I offer my condolences.”

Wow, so poignant!

Yet, 130 dead kids in another country can’t even get some sort of reaction from those same people? The last time I checked, shooting kids is fucked up, regardless of what country you associate yourself with.

Even more confusing is the very fact that the US has been dealing with an unusual surge in school shootings the past few years. You would think we would be, if anything, even more moved by a similar event at this time.

Alas, what do we really know about Pakistan? We probably think about terrorists, and maybe Osama. Maybe we heard something about India and Pakistan having a tense relationship “or something.”

At the end of the day, the mindset we have towards Pakistan is the same mindset we have towards the minorities – specifically black people – who live in our cities’ rougher neighborhoods. We look at them and shrug, saying, “Hey, that kind of violence is just normal over there. What can you do?”

Yeah, the world can’t be a perfect place. Violence will always exist on some scale or another. It’s a wonder we haven’t had yet another world war yet, to be honest.

But I’m not trying to get people riled up and ready to fix all the world’s problems. It would just be nice if we acknowledged we don’t give a shit about some things, even though they are arguably more important than whatever we do “care” about.

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