A TALE OF TWO CITIES: Bridgeport and Newtown
“These Neighborhoods Are Our Neighborhoods. These Children Are Our Children” – President Barack Obama
By James L. Walker,Jr.,Esq.(@
NEWTOWN, CT – Here we go again: a senseless gruesome violent massacre kills innocent young lives in an upscale suburban neighborhood.
This weekend’s murder spree by 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza at an elementary school a few miles from my Connecticut home wiped out the lives of 20 children and 8 adults, including himself and his 52-year-old mother Nancy Lanza.
These repeated tragic American events almost come with a formula: a normal school day in tranquil suburbia America where beautiful innocents are ambushed by a quiet unknown individual who exploded for reasons we will never know.
We then get the non-stop live television visual of hundreds of innocents fleeing a crime scene during our shock; coupled with non-stop media coverage on every major network.
This is followed by yet another painful nationwide vigil under the media glare, and a parade of press statements from the local, state and national politicians, including the President of the United States in some cases.
The conclusion of this formula is summed up with a muted brief debate on gun control; and then the countless re-airing of the photos of bereaved family members and the wonderful innocent and in some cases heroic victims.
But, there is something different about Newtown’s tragedy for me, home of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and its urban community neighbor about a dozen miles down the road in my childhood hometown called Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Newtown is a town of some 25,000 people; filled with a New England-esque Norman Rockwell post card feel to it.
It is a place where everyone knows everyone’s name.
It is a community of soccer moms, freshly brewed, hot Apple-Cider and you could even smell Christmas about 10 days away with the beautiful Christmas wreaths, lights, and ornaments sprinkled all over Main Street and the center of Town.
The Sandy Hook elementary school, consisting of 500 or so children, had been around since 1956 and was always a spring board to great high schools and a wonderful college education, if desired, followed by an almost given lifestyle of privilege, comfort and success in a community where the median income for a family was a $100,000.
It is a place only 55 miles or so North of New York, endowed with picturesque waterfalls, the beauty of autumn and fall, bright-eyed deer running freely through the gorgeous woods and eye-popping tall pine trees sprinkling the beautiful skyline.
One citizen told NBC news, it is a township “where we never have any crime and you would never expect to see such a horrific tragedy.”
However, some citizens in the Park City, just a few miles away, i.e., Bridgeport, would not be as surprised or shocked by violence occurring in its city.
Bridgeport, having a population of nearly 150,000, is another New England city known for its vibrant hardworking and decent people, but faced with failing and unsafe schools marred with violence and in some corridors gang-related crimes that stays in the press – unlike suburban Newtown, where things are kept hush-hush in the local press.
Bridgeport is a city much larger in size population, known for its once bustling manufacturing base and factories spread throughout the 19.4 square mile town.
Bridgeport is a town once made famous by circus ringleader and resident P.T. Barnum and his character and protégé Tom Thumb.
It is a town known for the hard work of its people and the dedication of the cross cultures of ethnicities.
But, unlike Newtown or its Sandy Hook community, children and residents in Bridgeport know the fear and presence of violence due a very small percent of citizens who commit the majority of the crimes.
Bridgeport is a city that saw 63 murders in one given year in the 1990s and was often called the Murder Capital of New England by many.
And, Bridgeport is a city where a shooting at a school or on a street corner is as common as the violence most inner city neighborhoods are plagued with regularly. (Chicago had 30 shootings in one weekend alone this summer).
Indeed, murder crime is down from its high in the 1990s, but it is still very common to hear about a shooting in Bridgeport on a given weekend; while Newtown residents struggle with whether or not there would be enough parking at the PTA night or the local soccer game or Italian festival.
I grew up in Bridgeport, saw many die at the hands of gunfire, whether as a high school student; or a homicide reporter in my early 20s in the record year of 1992.
I covered nearly 60 murders over a two year period in the early 90s while working at the then Bridgeport Post. Bright-eyed and with no gray hairs or beard, I was amazed at how suburban towns like Westport, Greenwich and New Canaan to the South of Bridgeport had no connection, empathy or outrage to the violence.
Similarly, I was left speechless at how many Northwest residents inEaston, Monroe and yes Newtown, all 10-20 minutes or so from Bridgeport, had very little concern about the violence parading its streets of Bridgeport and destroying generations of youth.
Most of these suburban towns (or citizens) never saw an inkling of the violence that became everyday life for the great people of Bridgeport.
Ironically, a decade after my reporter stint, I would find myself a 30something living in Monroe for nearly 7 years and commonly in Newtown for soccer games, grocery shopping, football, banking and writing articles on this very laptop used for this story at the Main Street Panera Bread in Newtown. We lived on the Monroe/Newtown line as a family for years.
Even more ironic, Friday’s shooting is approximately five-to-ten minutes from our current Monroe home and shook my family immediately when the reports blasted on CNN all day for a near week and counting. (They are even movingSandy Hook students into my daughter’s former school, Chalk Hill Elementary School of Monroe).
Two cities, Bridgeport and Newtown, just a dozen or so miles apart and so vastly different in the quality of life, the inequality of education; the safety of their respective children on the streets now grapple with a common enemy: violence knowing no limitations of zip code.
Bridgeport had 22 murders in 2010 (and I believe was at 21 murders this year alone at the time of this writing) and over 150 hundred in the past decade.
However, up until last week, Newtown had one homicide in almost a decade.
Often times, the hardworking people of Bridgeport complained to local and state leaders that the deaths of a young child, teenager, or murder victim fell on death ears at the highest levels of the state in the governor’s mansion.
We watched year in and out as violence traveled through the streets, roads and highways of Bridgeport; and while many, not all, from the suburbs of Monroe, Easton, Trumbull and yes, Newtown, just watched emotionless and with no concern for the schools or children dying by the wayside.
While Bridgeport families mourned and buried a given gang-related shooting or innocent by-stander shooting of a local teen on any given weekend this year; suburban residents enjoyed business as usual at the Sandy Hook Diner; the annual sale of Christmas wreaths and trees (as I often enjoyed bringing home this week for my children); and the weekend hockey game or Pop Warner football game.
But, today, the tale of two cities becomes one common story line: violence has yet again, taken more children in a senseless killing; that should have been seen and avoided.
Families will forever be changed and pained for many, many more Christmases to come.
An emotional President Obama said it best: these are “our” children and these are “our” neighborhoods.
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy urged us as a nation to do better and protect our children and communities.
It is my hope that as we grieve through this horrific tragedy for the people of Newtown, that we as a nation, whether in the inner cities or suburbs, truly realize that these are “our” children and “we” have a vested interest to now be concerned about violence anywhere; as we see it spreading everywhere.
Whether you live in Monroe, Easton or Greenwich or the suburbs of New York orAtlanta or the rich suburbs outside Denver or Chicago, be concerned about the violence and the killing of “our children” in “our neighborhoods.”
If you deal with violence in one area; there is a good chance you stop it from spreading to another area.
Specifically, if we looked at the assault on our schools in the Bridgeports of America, we would not be blinded when violence hits our schools in the Newtowns of America.
I hope we will do something “meaningful” as “our” teary-eyed President suggested and get beyond political bickering and posturing on gun control.
America still has 100,000 people shot annually, with reportedly 30,000 dying yearly.
Gun control is out-of-control and we need a dialogue and compromising solutions.
A violent tale of these two Connecticut cities has become a similar painful tale for dozens of cities nationwide.
Let’s stop that pain for the sake of “our children” and “our neighborhoods”!!!
James L. Walker, Jr. is an attorney who grew up in Bridgeport and is based in Connecticut and Atlanta. A former homicide reporter, Attorney Walker has operated a half-way house and spoken at several high schools and colleges and now works in the entertainment industry. He can be emailed at [email protected] or @jameslwalkeresq (on Twitter).