The carnage wrought in that bedroom community by a single gunman wielding an assault rifle with military-style ammunition clips took the lives of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Before those awful 10 minutes, murder was a rare occurrence in Newtown.
Even so, last month's massacre there got far more attention from the news media and politicians in this nation's capital than the 260 schoolchildren who were killed in Chicago over a recent three-year period. At a memorial service for them in 2011, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to make the case that these deaths -- which largely happened in crime ridden sections of the Windy City -- should be the concern of all Chicagoans.
"I want everybody to know in this city, if there is gun violence, it is not over there. It is not down there. If it happens in our city, it is part of your community regardless of where of you live," he said. And so it should be with murders that occur everywhere in this country. But, in truth, the deaths of 20 schoolchildren in a quiet Connecticut village are more widely grieved than the more than 500 people who were killed in Chicago last year.
Critics of Illinois' strict gun laws argue that Chicago's murder rate proves that such measures don't work. But Illinois' attempt to control access to guns is undermined by surrounding states that have more permissive gun laws. Regardless, it is what happened in Newtown, not the ongoing violence in Chicago, that has enraged this nation and reignited the debate over gun control. And it is this troubling double standard that angers Isiah Thomas.
"Whenever a child is murdered anywhere in America an alarm should go off --whether they are killed in the suburbs or the city," the NBA Hall of Famer told me. Thomas grew up in Chicago and spent his professional basketball playing career in Detroit, another city with a murder rate that long ago should have stoked a national debate over gun control. Four weeks before 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot up that Connecticut elementary school, Thomas hosted a Peace Basketball Tournament in Chicago. The idea was to get rival street gang members to start trading jump shots, not gunfire.
The games are just a small part of what Thomas wants to do to seek solutions to the carnage in cities such as Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Baltimore and Los Angeles, which all saw an increase in murders last year. He wants to bring together a mix of people -- athletes, entertainers, educators and social activists -- to work on finding creative ways to end the killings in inner city neighborhoods where gun violence takes a great toll but gets a lot less attention than what happened in that Connecticut school.
"In the academy, there are a lot of voices that need to be heard, people who have done the research," Thomas said. Working together with athletes and entertainers who can get the attention of the young people in violence prone communities, Thomas believes, they can help reduce the murderous behavior of inner city youths. "Let's arm them with knowledge, not weapons," he said.
Thomas, who is completing a master's degree in education at the University of California-Berkeley, knows there is no simple solution to the gun violence that afflicts these cities. But he also understands that as the nation clamors for a political response to the carnage in Newtown, there is opportunity to broaden the discussion to include this nation's urban killing fields.
And he wants to seize this moment.
DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.
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