Sunday night, many people across the nation were glued to the television or their phones, waiting for updates from the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, a family-friendly food festival in Northern California. The horror started at 5:40 p.m. local time when a shooter with an assault-style rifle opened fire. At least three people were killed, including a 6-year-old. An additional 12 were injured. The tragedy drew sympathy from public figures including the president of the United States.
Twenty minutes before the shooting in Gilroy started, a group of 20-year-olds were preparing to film a music video in the Elmwood neighborhood of Southwest Philadelphia. A man opened fire, killing a 21-year-old on the scene and injuring five more. It was the second mass shooting within a few blocks in Elmwood in six weeks. On Father’s Day, six people — including three teenagers — were shot at a graduation party in a nearby playground.
Unlike the Gilroy shooting, there was zero national attention on Philadelphia’s. The president didn’t share his sympathy. CNN didn’t interrupt its scheduling. Elmwood wasn’t trending on Twitter.
In a tweet on Monday morning, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the shooting in Elmwood “everyday” gun violence and the shooting in Gilroy a “mass shooting.” The implication is that there is something normal or routine in 20-year-olds being shot while filming a music video — while a mass shooting is a completely unpredictable event that targets the truly innocent.
Both the shooting in Elmwood and the shooting in Gilroy are “mass shootings” and neither should be thought of as an “everyday” occurrence.
What we’ve come to view as the “classic” mass shooting — Sandy Hook, Columbine, the Batman screening, Las Vegas — impacts mainly white people. In contrast, the victims of urban violence are predominantly black men. While the former is a tragedy that deserves national attention, the latter has been relegated to a consequence of poverty that is prevalent in the black and brown communities of cities like Philadelphia.
This dichotomy between mass shooting and urban violence is also revealed in President Donald Trump’s sympathetic response to the shooting in Gilroy while, on the same weekend, using urban violence in Baltimore as a tool against a political opponent.
While the killing of black and brown men in cities is common — eight out of 10 homicide victims in Philadelphia in 2017 were nonwhite — accountability for these deaths is rare. Six of every 10 homicides investigated in Philadelphia in 2018 went unsolved.
The state preempts the city from passing its own gun laws, but passes few of its own. That’s why City Council President Darrell L. Clarke’s proposal to ban firearms in city parks and recreation centers is unlikely to get traction in Harrisburg, where lawmakers are both unwilling to enact gun control or to allow cities to enact their own.