In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, I have been assigned to work on stories about the gun debate. One of these videos is about gun manufacturing in New England, an area that is nicknamed “gun valley” because so many firearms are made there. The irony, of course, is that some of the strictest firearms legislation exists and/or is being proposed in that area. And a lot of the legislation is being demanded by emotional crowds at rallies, like the one pictured below, that happened in Hartford in February.
Another one of these stories is about the ongoing inner city gun violence that is often forgotten about and overshadowed by media coverage of mass shootings. We look at a DC neighborhood called Capitol View, which has nearly as many annual gun-inflicted homicides as there were lives lost at Sandy Hook. The problem is so prevalent that a support group called “Life After Homicide” was started at a church in the neighborhood. I asked one of the women in the group, Saundra Beverly, how many people she has personally known who have been murdered. Her guess: 40 to 50 people. When I told her I have never personally known anyone was murdered, the concept didn’t even seem to register with her. She said something to the effect of, “I’m not saying I actually witnessed all of their murders.” I had to explain that I was saying that I actually cannot name one single friend, family member or acquaintance who has been killed by another human being. In certain areas, we are so insulated from this sort of tragedy. It rarely touches us or our loved ones. But for these people who are stuck in tough neighborhoods, gun violence and homicides are facts of life.
That exchange made me think about how I often cover stories about people who live in much more difficult situations than I do. I’m drawn to stories about struggle, especially among marginalized and poor populations, because I think it’s important that people in power are aware of what so many of these folks go through. Often they don’t have the means or the know-how to tell their stories to the right people on their own. But I’m sure they see me as an outsider, because my own life is nothing like theirs most of the time. The song “A Wake” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis reminds me of this same thing, especially when Macklemore says:
“Neighborhoods where you never see a news crew / Unless they’re gentrifying, white people don’t even cruise through / And my subconscious telling me to stop it / This is an issue that you shouldn’t get involved in / Don’t even tweet, R.I.P. Trayvon Martin / Don’t want to be that white dude million man marchin’ / Fighting for a freedom that my people stole / Don’t wanna make all my white fans uncomfortable / But you don’t even have a *** song for radio / Why you out here talkin race, trying to save the *** globe / Don’t get involved with causes in mind / White privilege, white guilt, at the same damn time / So we just party like it’s nineteen ninety nine / Celebrate the ignorance while these kids keep dying.”
I’m obviously not supporting a cause or demanding any sort of change; I’m just sharing truth the best I can, as objectively as possible. But I don’t always know how to approach these kinds of stories, or how to make myself blend in so people are genuine when I’m around. It’s a delicate dance to try to be as honest as possible, showing both plights and flaws. But I will certainly continue to try.