By Dean Close, Editor
Let’s pause a moment to read 17 names – the names of young people who died in needless violence recently.
Jalis Jeremiah Anderson
Jayquan L. Powell
Jalis Jeremiah Anderson
Kaia and Nye’Cole Marioneaux
Irving Alexis Chuba
Tommy Leigh Thompson
All of these young people left behind heart-broken parents and classmates who wonder why violence is so common, and why so many keep dying – and why more people are not speaking out.
But these 17 did not die in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
They died in separate shooting incidents, in mid-February to early March, in cities throughout the U.S. They died in gang-related shootings, or drive-by gun violence. Two siblings were shot while simply standing on the balcony of their apartment. One was shot as he sat in his bed.
Most of the above 17 were known only to their family, friends and classmates, but one of them, Shaquille Johnson, was a high school football star and a cousin of an Alabama football player.
While the deaths of these 17 made their news in the cities where they live, most of the rest of their country never heard about them, or how they died. The President did not call a press conference. Nobody organized a 17-minute walk-out to protest how ridiculous things are when young people cannot feel safe in their homes, on their streets, or in the parking lots of convenience stores where they simply wanted to buy chewing gum. There were no national discussions about the causes of such tragedies.
When gun violence reaches a U.S. school, it becomes a national issue. The President speaks out (as he should). The nation mourns (as we should). Politicians and school leaders and public safety officials ponder how to prevent, or stop, such attacks in the future (as they should). And, as it should, a debate arises among policy-makers about weapons, and about making sure that the mentally ill and those with violent criminal histories do not have access to them.
“Enough is enough. People are done with being shot,” said Iris Fosse-Ober, 18, a senior at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, during one of the many “17-Minute Walk-Outs” on March 17.
High school students from throughout the U.S. added their voices to the discussion, as they should.
But when gun violence happens in inner cities – which is a daily occurrence – we, the people – and we, the media, say: Almost nothing.
While I could pick from countless examples to show you just how horrible this urban violence (and its effect on young people) is, today I will simply offer three examples, from three U.S. cities.
1. In order to train its medics for the “chaotic flow” of serious injuries they may face on the battlefield, the U.S. Navy is now training some of its medical personnel at a Chicago’s Stroger Hospital.
‘The experience here can’t be replicated elsewhere, unless you have a major land invasion,’ Dr. Faran Bokhari told the Wall Street Journal.
Nearly 1/3 of the ER patients at Stroger Hospital show up with GSWs. Approximatel 4,000 people sustained gunshot wounds in Chicago last year.
2. In Baltimore, there was a huge celebration on Feb. 12.
“I am losing-my-mind thrilled,” said one community activist.
What was the big milestone that caused such extraordinary happiness?
The city with a population 1/5th of Iowa’s had gone 10 days without a murder.
It was the first time in a few years Baltimore had gone at least 10 days without a Baltimore resident killing another Baltimore resident.
It was such an unusual milestone that it made the newspapers and TV broadcasts in Baltimore, and caused that “losing-my-mind thrilled” emotion.
But Baltimore’s streak ended two days later, with two unrelated killings.
Baltimore police Commissioner-designate Darryl De Sousa went to the scene of the murder that broke the 12-day murder-less streak to speak with residents, officers and media.
“We had a couple of days that we didn’t have a homicide in the city, and I really hate to put a number on it because, at the end of the day, that number is a narrative, and that’s somebody’s life, somebody’s child that is unfortunately going to have to get buried,” De Sousa told a local reporter. “We’re trying to keep the officers encouraged; they’re doing a great job. It’s still early in the year. We think they’re making progress. We just have to keep pushing with the crime-fight, making sure the officers have support out there on the streets and give them the best training possible.”
3. In Washington, D.C., long-recognized as one of the worst places for gun violence, despite being among the places with the most strict gun-control laws, there’s a troubling statistic that I have not seen mentioned by anyone, ever: Since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, we have lost more Americans to gunshot wounds within 50 miles of the White House than we lost to GSWs in two wars in Iraq and the long war in Afghanistan.
And yes, most of those D.C. shootings occurred before the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that ended D.C.s ban on handguns. Guns were illegal in D.C.; and yet hundreds died each year in gun-related deaths. That’s something for those calling for “comprehensive gun control” to remember.
A 2016 study on gun violence by Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police found that in “approximately 8 out of 10 cases, the perpetrator was not a lawful gun owner but rather in illegal possession of a weapon that belonged to someone else,” reported the Washington Post.
I was glad when I received a message that area students were becoming involved in calling for changes to make our schools safer. It’s always, to say the obvious, good for young people to be involved in any discussion about national issues.
But for the local teens involved, I have a couple of challenges.
First: Remember the other 17. The issue of gun violence has been a daily devastation for millions, especially in America’s inner cities, long before it became a school issue.
Second: Realize that there is not any one easy solution. If there were, the adults would have figured it out by now.
Third: Add some perspective and turn this one safety issue into a multi-issue youth safety campaign.
According to my count, there have been 578 people killed in school violence incidents throughout the history of the U.S, beginning with the Enoch Brown school massacre in Pennsylvania in 1764. However, each year, an average of 4,300 young people die from alcohol-related issues, according to the Centers of Disease Control.
It’s time for high schoolers to say “enough is enough,” and apply peer pressure to discourage the the abuse drugs and underage use/abuse of alcohol. There are many other issues that call for your voice, your involvement, your passion.
And finally: Stay involved. Continue speaking on issues you care about, and understand that a protest is just the beginning. Much of the work that goes on in changing society goes on behind the scenes. And I will warn you: It’s often boring, complicated, and technical. It means hours of sitting down with people who only partly agree – or may almost totally disagree – with you on things about which you feel very strongly, and listening, and being heard. It means long days of writing letters or emails, or making phone calls. It means being criticized by people who haven’t worked on the issue as long as you have. It means being misunderstood. It means work.
But you will keep on. Because these issues – and because you – matter.