Aliyah Shell, 6; Heaven Sutton, 7

Aliyah Shell, 6; Heaven Sutton, 7, both victims of gun violence in Chicago.

Six-year-old Aliyah Shell was standing on the front porch with her mother and younger sister when she was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Chicago.

Seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was standing next to her mother in front of her home selling candy when gunshots rang out on her Chicago block and she crumbled on the pavement, dead from a stray bullet.

Sandra Tyler held her 13-year-old son, Tyquan, in her arms as he bled out on a Chicago sidewalk, another random victim of a senseless, drive-by shooting.

“I held him in my arms on the sidewalk and talked to him while he was fighting for his life,” Tyler said in June. “I regret letting him go to the party. He was my baby — so loving and respectful.”

And the list of black and brown children goes on and on…

Without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, mothers and fathers in rural towns and urban cities mourn their children quietly, as their memories fade from America’s conscious like tiny footprints in the sand.

There will never be an appropriate time to say that this nation only stands at attention when the majority of victims are white Americans, as was the case at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, so I might as well say it today.

It is horrifying what happened to those babies. As my mentor, Rebecca Carroll, so unerringly stated, for a parent, the thought of what transpired within the confines of Sandy Hook conjures up not just “visceral” emotions, but “primal” urges. We know hallways smelling of chalk and sanitizer, with the faint sounds of math and science echoing down the halls, empty with the exception of the lone student on a bathroom break and the teacher’s aide dashing to make copies.

We hear the laughter and screams on the playgrounds; we can imagine the whispers and the memories being made — check yes or no — when a crazed madman burst into their 6- and 7-year-old worlds with a big scary gun that mommy and daddy couldn’t save them from. The terror seizes our hearts as if those were our children — because they could have been. And the deepest fear most parents have is not being there to protect them when they need us most.

But therein lies the fundamental difference.

The nation doesn’t stop when the Heavens and Aliyahs of the world are snatched from us too soon. How many outside of our own communities demand gun control legislation when the victim is brown-eyed and kinky-haired, and not blue-eyed and blond?

White American children in this country who become victims of gun violence are a sign of shattered innocence, an anomaly that must be analyzed and dissected to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Black and Brown American children who become victims serve as an indictment of our communities, our homes and our parenting.

Even white perpetrators are assessed delicately. Adam Lanza was a good kid, let media and friends tell the tale — a genius even, who simply exhibited maladaptive social tendencies. His loving mother Nancy, who taught him how to shoot her cache of high powered rifles before he shot her in the head multiple times, was an exceptional parent. This tableau leaves many white Americans in paralyzing fear, because, gotdamnit, if being white, rich and Christian doesn’t afford you some protection in this crazy, mixed up world, then we’re all doomed.

President Barack Obama, a Commander-in-Chief for whom murdered black children has never made the itinerary beyond a Rose Garden soundbite and MTV during the election cycle, rushed to Newtown, Connecticut — as he did Aurora, Colorado – to comfort and console the community:

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.
And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.
You know, someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.

With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child, is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet we also know that with that child’s very first step and each step after that, they are separating from us, that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.

They will suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments, and we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear. And we know we can’t do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation. And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And we will be found lacking.

Though President Obama briefly touched on toxic gun violence across the country, the close to 300 Chicago Public Schools students killed by violence over a 3 year period still deserve a vigil; the 27 Palestinian children killed by U.S. and Israeli funded weaponry in this latest conflict deserve a vigil; the 178 children killed by U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen also deserve a vigil.

More urgently, as a nation we must move beyond the shallow rhetoric of  “we can do better” to actually implementing targeted, effective policies across the spectrum, from gun control to mental health, that will dismantle the blood-thirsty war machine, domestic castes systems and the entrenched systemic and systematic racism that leaves white America stunned when incomprehensible violence kicks in their front doors and the rest of America resigned when it tears down theirs.

Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t make it more heinous because there were 20 children murdered at one time in a quiet, well-to-do enclave; there is no package deal on grief. The unconscionable act of the killer may take brutal to new heights, but it does not tilt the scales on the collective value of the lives lost. Peel apart the tear-stained layers, and there are individual families who will grieve in their homes alone years after the candles have been blown out and the flowers have withered and died. And they are no different from families suffering in silence around the world.

Red and yellow, black and white, they are all precious. And until we, as human beings, begin to treat them as such, until we purposefully live the creed that “an injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere,” our chickens will continue to come home to roost.

And innocent children will continue to fall victims to a world not of their own making.

***In honor of the 27 innocent victims of violence in Newtown, Connecticut, and all over the world. May they rest in peace and love.***

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  • D.T.

    This was well written and very true. You put how I have been feeling about this whole SHES situation in better words than I could ever have. My condolences to the families? Yes, but where is all this outcry and support for all the innocent black children’s lives cut short?

    I had to really check my emotions and turn off my television because I became angered at the picture they kept showing of the little blue eyed blond haired girl. I know it’s not her fault they keep showing the picture but it just bothers me.

    Now for my rant: I wish people would stop saying “hug your kids tonight” or “hug your kids a little tighter.” those statements are both selfish and insensitive. Someone loses their child and your response is to hug yours tighter? This isn’t about you or your kids!

    Then again I’m not the most sensitive about other matters. So…..

  • Anthony

    Thank you for this article. As soon as I got sat the initial shock of Newtotwn, I began to this of the deafening silence when it comes to killings in the inner cities, reservations, and rural slums of America. Once you put the carnage in an international context, the silence is even more shameful.

    • Anthony

      Sorry for all of the typos, those automatic iPad corrections can make me look illiterate sometimes. I think communities of color need to make their voices heard on this issue. We need to hold President Obama’s feet to the fire because too often he sternly lectures black communities about our shortcomings, I have never heard the sort of compassion that he showed for Newtown, Connecticut, when it comes to violence in his own hometown of Chicago.

      I know gun violence in the inner city and mass shootings are, not identical, Inner city shootings are much more likely to involve illegal guns while mass shootings are usually done with legally bought weapons. The major point is that all guns are legal at some time, and we have to regulate the, much more tightly.

  • Fantastico

    Best analysis on this tragedy yet.

  • It’s so very sad that the violence in Chicago has become so common place that it doesn’t make the news anymore.

    This is a list of names of Children in Chicago who lost their lives to guns this is only for 2012. It was put together by Pastor Corey Brooks. You can learn more about his work for the children of Chicago here:

    65 died by gun violence. All under the age of 20. We have GOT to do more.

    Nicholas Camacho, Age 19
    Mark Watts, Age 15
    Valentin Bahena, Age 17
    Christian Peggs, Age 18
    Cory Campbell, Age 18
    Kurtis Stanton, Age 19
    Devonte Pippen, Age 18
    Anton Sanders, Age 15
    Deshun Winfert, Age 15
    Edgar Delgado, Age 17
    Jamal Harris, Age 19
    Damion Rolle, Age 14
    George Howard, Age 15
    Albert Guyton, Age 15
    Joshua Williams, Age 16
    Gustavo Reyes, Age 19
    Johnny Vargas, Age 19
    Anthony Scott, Age 19
    Aliyah Shell, Age 6
    Cedric Bell, Age 16
    Jaleen Armstrong, Age 18
    Roberto Luna, Age 13
    Brandon Miles, Age 19
    Donnel Rankin, Age 16
    Alejandro Jaime, Age 14
    Nazia Banks, Age 12
    Jeffrey Triplett, Age 17
    Jaylin Johnson, Age 18
    Jaleel Beasley, Age 19
    Marley Collins, Age 19
    Ivan Alanis, Age 13
    Jamal Lockett, Age 16
    Joseph Briggs, Age 16
    Romelo Golden, Age 17
    Shakaki Asphy, Age 16
    Henry Soyege, Age 19
    Antonio Davis, Age 14
    Tyquan Tyler, Age 13
    Heaven Sutton, Age 7
    William Cook, Age 19
    Lenard Trust, Age 17
    Myrion Currie, Age 19
    Demetrius Tribett, Age 19
    Adeniyi Adesida, Age 18
    Ricardo Alcantara, Age 18
    Zachary Berrios, Age 18
    Martin Tejeda, Age 16
    Nathaniel Gonzalez, Age 16
    Jamauri Askew, Age 16
    Akil Partee, Age 19
    Alixi Johnson, Age 17
    Douglas Bufford, Age 16
    Quincey Simmons, Age 18
    Cornell Ferguson, Age 16
    Johnqualus Turner, Age 16
    Tony Dunn, Age 19
    Anthony Brooms, Age 19
    Richard Johnson, Age 18
    Derrick Baker, Age 18
    Taylor Diorio, Age 17
    Alonzo Powell, Age 18
    Jaime Ruvalcaba, Age 15
    Alejandro Valdez, Age 15
    Lucian Dreux, Age 17
    Aaron Gaithan, Age 18

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    Many of the sentiments expressed in this article crossed my mind this weekend.