As I made myself comfy on the bus on the way to work two weeks ago I got a worried email from my father, checking that I was alright. I looked around at my fellow commuters, who were reading the paper or twiddling on their phones without any sign of panic. There had been a shooting in my city and it had reached the news in Australia, but had somehow bypassed the front pages of the morning papers.
I happened to be teaching that morning, and brought up the subject with my students as they filed in.
‘We’re on the news in Australia? Really?’ Exclaimed someone in surprise.
‘Another shooting? I wonder why that one made the news.’ Commented another, blase.
‘It was gangs wasn’t it? I know someone who was shot. It’s all about drugs, you just have to know where to avoid.’ Someone else added confidently.
‘It only happens in those areas, we’re fine here.’ Concluded another of the students, as she sipped her coffee and gestured vaguely over the river.
Just another gang shooting, it seemed. The lid seemed mentally fixed on the topic, as if this neatly packaged the incident away. A look through reports of other incidents in the last few years revealed that the student’s comments were broadly true. Shootings were common and they did seem to happen repeatedly in the same areas. Areas removed from the centre of town by barriers of water, other suburbs and apparently of the mind. Not in my backyard.
I recalled a few weeks earlier hearing about a shooting outside a pizza shop in a suburb where I regularly drink. A local who is a friend seemed surprised that it happened in her local suburb, it being a nice neighbourhood and according to a documentary about Swedish accents, the ‘Montmartre of Gothenburg’. How could that happen here?
The week after the shooting I spoke to another of my students, and she also dismissed it as happening somewhere else. In a dissonant sort of way, the incident was both unimportant because it happened so often and because it happened outside the scope of her neighbourhood. The unspoken line was that it happened in low socio-economic suburbs, where there is usually lower education standards, higher unemployment and a greater percentage of people born in other countries. This mess of assumptions and indifference played alongside an incident just the previous day in which a man had shot his ex-partner. It had happened within 200 metres of my student’s school. This time there was no connection to gangs, rather a private disagreement. She shrugged when I asked if she was ok. Nothing to do with us.
As someone who is still an outsider in many ways, there are nuances that I miss and suppositions that I throw about the place. This I hope excuses me of offenses I may have cast in the faces of locals and aspersions I have thrown upon my adopted home. It seems to me though that you can’t find answers to questions if you don’t ask, or at least send questions into the ether.