Their eyes are watching Aurora, Colorado, home of the awful mass shooting last week by James Holmes. They are the American media machine, law enforcement officers and specialists, gun control advocates and opponents, politicians, religious and spiritual leaders, and the usual assortment of talking heads, pundits, pontificators, and people who just like to talk ish on facebook and twitter.
Still, their eyes cannot see what Mrs. Montiqua Lewis can see. Montiqua is 37-years-old, and married with two daughters, ages 20 and 14. She is a banking services representative studying to become a licensed broker. She was born in Denver in the 1970s, in the Black part of town, but when she was 3 or 4 her dad decided, as did many African Americans on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, that the family deserved a better life and the kind of options and possibilities woefully missing in ghettoes like Denver’s.
But Black and Latino families moving into Aurora meant the same kind of White flight that swept other parts of America in the 1960s and 1970s. Notes Montiqua: “As more and more Blacks and Hispanics moved to Aurora, the Whites and Asians moved further and further South.”
That flight also meant in Aurora, as elsewhere, the draining of money and resources from those now mostly Black and Latino ‘hoods. And with the great influence of California street activity, by the 1980s Aurora and Denver both, according to Montiqua, “started having an influx of the Crips and Bloods.”
So, yes, Aurora, Colorado does have the diversity that has been highlighted in the media, and evident in still photos and video clips of the mass murder aftermath. But it is also a semi-segregated metropolis, like other American cities and towns, with deep divisions by race, culture, and class. James Holmes, in fact, lived in the hub of Aurora’s gritty urban enclave.
“The area where the shooter lives is in the lower income part of Aurora, close to where I grew up.”
An area, Montiqua points out, that has been “hot” the entire Summer with a plethora of gang activity and shootings. In other words, inner city Aurora ain’t no different than any other impoverished ‘hood where the public schools stink, jobs are limited, and hopelessness, rage, and violence reign supreme.
This, Montiqua emphasizes, makes the shooter’s choice of residence even more bizarre: “He is White and the areas he targeted, his apartment and the movie theater, have a high concentration of minorities.”
Why James Holmes chose this neighborhood is anyone’s guess, but it is not unusual to see young Whites living in poor communities of color throughout America. These 20something Whites, like James Holmes, have led the charge toward gentrification, pushing poor Blacks and Latinos out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for years. Neighborhoods, says Montiqua, where the residents suffer through multiple kinds of indignities, including regular racial profiling by local police.
“I do not support racial profiling, which happens a lot here in Denver and Aurora, but maybe if the police turn their efforts less on the minorities and more towards what White Americans are doing they would catch some of their heinous acts before they happen.”
Montiqua and her husband are very thankful the Aurora tragedy did not directly affect them. Their 14-year-old daughter had gone to a midnight screening of the Batman film, but luckily it was at a different theater. Although, Montiqua adds, “my sister-in-law’s son knows two of the victims. One of them did not survive. Right now the community is in shock.”
A shock that makes Montiqua wonder how people are just allowed to stockpile weapons as James Holmes did. And, she says to me matter of factly, she heard on tv that the ratio of gun dealers to McDonald’s in America is 9 to 1.
“Is gun control the answer? I don’t know. Maybe there should be a national registry of gun owners and put a cap on the number of guns people can own. I believe people should have the right to protect their property. The question I ask is how many guns does it take to do that?”
Until then Montiqua says she and her husband will continue to instruct their daughters on how to deal with a world that is violent.
“They are both book and street smart and they know sometimes things happen that are out of their control. They know they have to watch their own backs.”
As we all must, sadly, in these times—
Kevin Powell, writer, activist, public speaker, is the author or editor of 11 books, including “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays” (www.lulu.com). Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell