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.***

113 Comments

  1. Taliah

    This is a ridiculous and each time we devalue a heinous and shameful act of violence when people die unneccesarily because “if this were black people, no one would care, it ridiculous. I guarantee if a black man bursted into a school and killed 20 black children, you would see that asshole on every news station, and you would hear about it as well. It is violence on a large scale, the shock value of that that sets people aflame and the media’s job is to sensationalize and capiltalize on the most shocking, horrendous aspects of current events. Unfortunately, and so sadly, it is not uncommon for minority children to be gunned down in urban areas, much to our dismay and grief. However, it is uncommonn for 20 children to be slain in mass. The same way that it is not uncommon for a black woman to take a black man to cocurt for child support. But when that man has 35 children, and 35 women are taking him to court for child support, there is sensation in that. It is marketable. It sells. So how dare you devalue those children and people’s lives by being so petty in this moment to say, if those people were black, you wouldnt see them on the news. How about, thse are PEOPLE! Which we all are. If these people were black would it be any more sad. No! So have some sympathy, respect, and tact for the people that just lost their babies, and have the class to not write the garbage 3 days after the incident. How would you feel this were one of your children and someone had the nerve to say, psh, their not white kids. So it doesnt matter. You making the statement you said is the EXACT same, regardless of your perceived belief about its truth or not. Jeez, people, at some point, it is about humanity, and not about black, white, yellow, purple, green, whatever.

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    • So,its uncommon for a black woman to take a black man to court for child support? Really!! Have you done any research, talked with every black single mother? My guess is no. Stop generalizing black single mothers and fathers that take of their children. The writer is asking you too think a little deeper, which is obviously a problem for you.

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    • She said “not uncommon” which meant it was common.

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    • @Taliah I’m so sorry I glazed over the “not uncommon” part and mimiluvs thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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    • Diana

      *Standing ovation*. I read this article in disbelief this is one tragedy where race needs to be left out of it. Thanks for your comment.

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  2. Fancypants

    I can honetsly say that race NEVER crossed my mind when considering the Newtown tragedy. All I saw where innocent lives lost at the hands of a mad man. This article and articles like it make my stomach hurt. I feel sorry for people who only see things through race-colored glasses…

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  3. i honestly uttered a comment to my boyfriend when i saw that there were worldwide tributes and candle light vigils and leaders from iraq to thailand expressing their condolences. the news article i read wrote” people all across the world are outraged and upset at this incident” i said “of course the whole world is sad. the school was all white” oops : (

    (not to take away from the horrible tragedy. black green or purple it’s sad as hell)

    i also wonder why white men aren’t feared and shown as violent and crazy when they’re the main ones doing things like this.people still trust white men and invite them with open arms while they STILL clutch their purses and lock their car doors when they see a black or hispanic man. usually due to STEREOTYPES. but when you see on the news day in and day out that white men are the main ones to be rapist,pedophiles,and mass murderers people don’t get scared of them at all. smh

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  4. Annd this is why racism today is so insidious….you can’t tell whether or not this story would be the same if this happened with a white killer in an all black school or a black killer at the same school or a black killer at a black school. Would people be so willing to delve in “what could’ve went wrong” with the shooter had he been black? would mental illness even be on the table or would he be called a coon, nigger, thug..etc.? Would this feel as tragic for everyone if only black children were gunned down? THIS is why racism sucks cuz as a black person it is inevitable to question these things, then you feel like shit when you question it because innocent kids were killed. Period. And then you are left to be the bigger person and realize all lives are equal, even though society doesn’t see that your life is worth as much as everyone else’s. Now, I won’t deny, on a case-by-case basis black children’s lives are def not valued as much as white children’s. There was a case of two missing black children, both abducted in the same exact way and, of course, the black story was not reported on. However, how much does this have to do with criminality in the BLACK community, brought on by violence in our OWN members? Does it stop being an issue because it looks like it’s our fault and not sensational? Are black lives, regardless of where we grow up or come from devalued because of the collateral damage of the rampant gang and drug activity in the hood? Are we all painted with the same brush because crime is so prevalent in many of our communities? How do we fix this? Will we ever?

    Now, my gut feeling is that this tragedy is only getting national attention because of the nature of the crime, versus the two other black children that were killed by stray bullets. And this in no way affected, in my mind, how much it sucks that such young lives are lost. But it is tiring being black and seeing that our lives don’t mean that much, while continuing to value everyone else’s life the same.

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  5. Wow, couldn’t we talk about the “race issue at another time? Seriously

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    • right because current discourses around gun violence isn’t currently marked by race.. namely white and middle class.

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    • No, seriously. The issue at hand is gun violence. Who do you think the conversation is going to be around when pushing for gun control? Whose lives are worth protecting? We’ll talk about Columbine, the Santana High School Shooting, Connecticut. No one will talk about gun violence in communities of color. It’s just not compelling enough to pressure lobbyist to push for gun control measures.

      Disagree with me now, but when gun control is enforced in white, middle class neighborhoods and leave it completely unenforced in neighborhoods of color, shit pat yourself on the back because your complacency helped shaped the sociopolitical climate that allows for it. I’m sorry but community violence is a little more complex then “young black men taking responsibility for their lives.”

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