During my semester in London, I never expected to see my hometown on the British news. But, on April 3, 2009, journalists around the world found themselves covering the small city of Binghamton, N.Y. At 10:30 that morning, Jiverly Wong entered the American Civic Association and killed 13 people before taking his own life.
Two years later, the residents of Binghamton and the surrounding areas are still trying to cope with the tragedy. People get chills when they drive past the building where so much innocent blood was shed. The ACA has reopened and resumed its work in helping recent immigrants and refugees with citizenship classes, resettlement and other services, but the wounds have yet to heal.
The greater U.S. population, however, seemed to move on and forget the massacre in less than a week. Journalists vacated the area as quickly as they had flooded in, and broadcasters switched to more cheerful news. Politicians sent their condolences to the families and then went back to work.
While it is dangerous to try to make sense of senseless violence, the lack of analysis of the Binghamton shooting reveals deeper problems with the United States. Following the shooting, no one questioned our gun laws, despite the fact that it marked the fifth fatal mass shooting in the U.S. in a month. Even though Wong was an ethnic Chinese man who emigrated from Vietnam, and his rambling letter to the media revealed his frustrations with assimilating into the United States, no one asked whether we as a country could do more to help immigrants. These questions are not intended to condone his actions—after all, he chose to take out his anger on the very people who had helped him and other immigrants the most—but rather, they are necessary in trying to understand how we can prevent such tragedies in the future.
Additionally troubling is the lack of attention given to the victims of the shooting. The massacre happened just months after Obama’s inauguration, an event that allegedly signaled America’s transition to a post-racial society. However, 12 of the victims were immigrants taking a citizenship class, hailing from countries like Iraq, the Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Haiti, China and Brazil. The predominantly non-white victims were not given a memorial service by the president—they were not given individual attention at all aside from local news and some coverage in The New York Times. Perhaps if this had been a shooting of middle-class, white Americans, the attention would have been greater. Race was not the only factor in the lack of memorials, but the tendency to ignore the victims or to continuously lump them together as an anonymous group speaks to the attitudes toward immigrants and anyone who is not white. Apparently we aren’t as post-racial as we let ourselves believe.
The national reaction to the Binghamton shootings stands in stark contrast to the media frenzy surrounding the Jan. 8, 2011, tragedy in Tucson. For weeks, gunman Jared Lee Loughner’s disturbing smile was plastered on news networks, as pundits raced to assign political meaning to the violence. True, this massacre was more overtly political in that it occurred at an event for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, but the vitriol and blame on both sides of the aisle in the wake of the shooting was unprecedented. People used the shooting for a variety of political ends, prompting debates and discussions. The president then held a pep-rally-esque memorial service for the six victims, something the 14 Binghamton victims never received. The two massacres were certainly different in many ways, but in the end they both took innocent lives—and revealed how the general American public values those lives.
Given the prevalence of gun-related violence in the United States, it is interesting to analyze differing national reactions to massacres. Quantifiable evidence, such as the number of news reports of a tragedy, shows that not all shootings are treated equally. The media and the public must navigate the paths of paying a proper tribute to the victims while not sensationalizing and commodifying violence. The speed with which the nation forgot about the Binghamton shooting reveals our fear of discussing difficult topics, such as gun control and immigrants’ rights. It also shows a deeper issue: Non-white people are not given the same respect and attention as their white counterparts. If we are to end the cycle of violence and loss of life within our nation, we must engage in conversations about these topics long after the disturbing images of massacres leave our television screens.