If slayings happen in a single event, as in the terrible shooting deaths of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., there is public and media outrage. And if the killing is believed to be racially motivated, as in the Trayvon Martin case, civil rights leaders bring thousands to protests, as they did in Sanford, Fla., to push for punishment of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch member accused of shooting Martin. All that is as it should be.
Yet if there are no guys like Zimmerman — who is of white and Hispanic background — to attack, there is often numbness, an unjustified nothingness when the issue is blacks killing blacks. The civil rights machines don’t crank up, the pulpits seldom roar with vitriolic sermons and editorials crying out loudly for an end to the black-on-black carnage are few and far between. In fact there is such a lack of programs, protest or caring about black kids getting killed, I wonder have their lives ceased to matter at all to the power brokers. As Charles Ramsey, the former D.C. police chief, reportedly said at a gun forum, “Nobody in this room would have known Trayvon Martin if he had been shot by a black kid.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that among 10- to 24-year-olds, homicide is the leading cause of death for African Americans, and other reports show that more than 90 percent of the violence is from other blacks, mostly from guns. The statistics are heartbreaking, but the public faces behind the data extolling what the youths might have become are cause for collective tears and mass action.
A Children’s Defense Fund report, using CDC data, shows that though African Americans represent just 15 percent of the nation’s youths, they constitute 45 percent of child gun deaths in 2008 and 2009. In Chicago, nearly 700 children were shot in 2011. Between March 2011 and March 2012, 107 Chicago youths under age 20 were killed by gun violence. Iraq and Afghanistan had become safer for our children and teens than our cities.
“There is more child and teen deaths in 32 years between 1979 and 2010 than in Vietnam, Korean, Afghanistan and Iraq war combined.” the report found.
Behind the numbers, there are the lives, the birthday parties, the graduations that won’t happen. The hoped for grandchildren becomes just a fleeting thought. The aftershock of the loss of one’s child becomes a wound that keeps on bleeding long after the balloons and teddy bears on streets to commemorate the slayings are blown away or blemished by dirt or rain.
I live in Prince George’s County, where we once bragged about being the wealthiest black county in the nation. Now we have become Washington’s most troubled suburb, resulting from the slaying of six kids in six months. It was once thought if you could keep your kids out of gangs or crime infested areas, in church and college-bound, homicide would not touch their lives. But now we are not so sure.
Among the children slain in my county was Charles Walker Jr., described as a “standout student at Suitland High School,’’ where I addressed a student assembly last year. From what I saw, the school was orderly and well-maintained and most students were respectful and eager to succeed. The 15-year-old was apparently accosted by five young men in a van trying to rob him of boots he had bought for his girlfriend. He was shot in the back as he ran.
In our communities, mothers are weeping for the children, whether they gave birth to those killed or not. Psychiatrists are saying our children are suffering from post-traumatic shock as they internalize the loss of friends. This has gone on too long.
I still want justice for Trayvon, but my mind and heart is fixated right here in Prince George’s. Nothing will make me believe that in this county, an appendage to the capitol of the greatest superpower in the world, where we can defend ourselves from terrorism across the globe that we can’t combat terrorism in our own neighborhoods. If these were white children being killed in such record numbers, even the National Guard would be called out in some of the roughest spots such as Chicago.
“The Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is an inherent right that must be enforced by all branches of government. The White House and Congress have a public obligation to protect the lives of all our children, wherever they live. The right to grow up and not to become a homicide statistic must become a national and federal priority.
It took public pressure from rights activists and churches to obtain voting rights for blacks and women, to move blacks to the front of the bus and to remove barriers for gays, as well as the physically challenged. Similar actions in conjunction with elected officials must stand up to the National Rifle Association, as they did against civil rights foes George Wallace and Bull Connor, to change laws and unplug loop holes which protect guns — weapons of mass destruction — instead of citizens in our communities. Currently the national focus is on assault weapons, magazine clips and background checks that have little to do with guns in the ghettos.
Just as Trayvon is remembered, we must remember the thousands of black children who are slain in black-on-black crime. We cannot allow ourselves to become too numb, too callous or indifferent to remember who they were and what they might have been as well as work so others might have a chance to live.
Reynolds is an ordained minister, a columnist for TheRootDC and the author of six books, including “Out of Hell & Living Well: Healing From the Inside Out.” She is a former editor and columnist for USA Today.
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