By Tim Sinclair
People are impacted by the unexpected. Humans are most likely to react (laugh, scream, cry, etc.) when something occurs that they didn't see coming. Just ask any comedian, film director or marketing executive. When the audience thinks they know what's coming — boom — they give them something else. Emotion ensues.
Last December, 26 people lost their lives in Newtown, Conn. America reacted. In a matter of hours, our country changed forever. In fact, before the caskets of these precious people were even closed, legislators in Washington were working behind closed doors to tighten gun control laws, secure our schools, and offer help to the troubled souls who might contemplate such heinous acts in the future.
Last December, 26 people also lost their lives in Chicago, Illinois. America did not react. Not only did these homicides avoid making waves on Capitol Hill, but they weren't even mentioned outside of the Chicago-area media.
In reality, December 2012 was a safety success for the Windy City. Not since March of 2011 had there been so few murders in a month (22). There are mountains of evidence for the gravity of Chicago's situation, but perhaps the most damning is this: the death toll in five of America's worst mass-shootings (Sandy Hook, Columbine, the "Batman" movie, Fort Hood and Virginia Tech) is 97. Chicago has eclipsed that number since Thanksgiving.
Surprise is a powerful thing. Surprise elicits emotion. Surprise sells magazines. Surprise demands changes that the status-quo does not.
Surprise is why we get wall-to-wall news coverage of Newtown, and no mention of Chi-town. Surprise is why President Obama will be outlining a plan for new gun control laws during his State of the Union address this year, barely two months after 20 children and six adults were gunned down in Connecticut. And a lack of surprise is why President Obama wasn't giving the very same speech four years ago after 30 kids and 50 adults were killed in his hometown between the election and the inauguration.
Change is needed in America, to be sure, but the change we ultimately need is something that can't be found in any capital. It's impossible to legislate human decency. It's narrow-minded to think that new laws will alter our collective apathy toward inner-city violence. And it's futile to combat a problem that is only seen as a problem when there is sensationalism or shock value behind it.
America must place equal value on human life. All human life. Red, yellow, black and white. Rich, poor, schooled and street-smart. Young, old, near-death and not-yet-born. Life was once recognized by the majority of this country as both God-given and Constitutionally protected, but no longer. Far from it.
Back in 1776, all men were (theoretically) created equal. Today, people have worth if and only if their story can help perpetuate a political narrative or turn on a few televisions — and, on the whole, you and I have accepted it. This societal double standard is killing our children, it's corrupting our culture and it's forfeiting our future. But it isn't surprising ... and perhaps that's the problem.
Tim Sinclair is part of WBGL radio's morning show and a public address announcer for many Illini sporting events. You'll hear him throughout the year at Illinois women's basketball, wrestling, softball, gymnastics and swimming events.