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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  • cm

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

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

    • 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.”

  • Adrienne s

    I think that the biggest problem we Americans face these days is our self-centered and apathetic culture. It is clear that Ryan Lanza (although most likely mentally ill) did not give one f@*about anyone but himself when he committed these heinous atrocities. I also believe that there are people, like this author, who use these tragedies to further their own agendas and are too caught up in themselves and how they feel to know when to shut up and stop making everything about them.

    A tragedy occurred on Friday, whether the people involved were white, black, Hispanic, Asian or Martians doesn’t matter. What matters is that 26 innocent lives were lost, the majority of which were young children – children too young to be able to protect themselves; children who had to stand and watch as their friends were executed in front of them one at a time; children who were most likely crying out for their parents at the time of their deaths.

    Tell me, author, if one of them had been your child or family member, would you still have written this article 72 HOURS later? If it had been your son or daughter killed by a crazed gunman would you be sitting at home worrying about racial bias in the media? How would you feel if 3 DAYS after your FIRST GRADER died after being shot 11 TIMES someone told you that your tragedy was no more important than any other of the billions of lives lost since the beginning of time?

    And when you were doing your research regarding the 3 minority children in your article killed by gun violence, did you happen to also come across the stories of Craig Allen Loughrey, Cole Tyler Reed or David Young who were all white children between the ages of 4 and 7 critically injured or killed by gun violence in the past 2 months? No? Maybe that’s because none of them made the front page of the newspapers either. Go figure, them being white and all…

    P.S. I’m a Mexican American and I still think you’re an asshole.

    • Apple

      Umm his name was Adam

    • Sooo, you want to critique apathy and then casually dismiss his mental illness? Hm. Check yourself. This is the time to discuss disparate access to mental health services and the quality of the services available. This is the time to discuss how coverage of tragedies and what defines a NATIONAL tragedy is marked by race and class biases. The mere publicizing of this event is political, so yeah a political analysis is warranted. It doesn’t make us assholes or insensitive. IT MEANS WE CARE ABOUT CREATING SOLUTIONS THAT ARE APPLICABLE TO ALL COMMUNITIES not just the dominant ones that shape the mainstream legal voice. We do this by NAMING THOSE BIASES. That is how change happens, not by blindly shedding tears.

    • cupcakes and shiraz

      That boy wasn’t mentally ill. He was a pissed off brat with an entitlement complex and wanted to take the world out when he didn’t get it.

      Anyone who’d shoot little children like that is just straight up evil at its finest. I wish people would stop making angry little white boys with guns the poster children of mental illness.

    • Zoe

      While I won’t make a call on whether or not he was mentally ill, I will piggy back off cupcake and shiraz’s last sentence. Not to take away from the main point of the article, but I have to ask why hardly anyone cites rampant mental illness for violence in urban, (often minority-populated) areas? If anything, the perpetrators in those sorts of cases would be more likely to have an unchecked mental illness due to the lack of healthcare access.

    • EST. 1986

      Martians aren’t real, and if they were, I don’t think humans would care if something tragic happened to them.

    • Naxo V.

      I was completely with you until you threw in the “I’m a Mexican American” part. :/ Didn’t we just get finished saying race/ethnicity doesn’t matter? So what gives your race/ethinicity any more merit than anyone else?

  • Geri

    Drive by or bystander shootings are not the same as a mass shooting in a concentrated place. Yes those shootings that happen everyday do kill children and innocent people more than mass shootings, but this is a whole different matter on an emotional level. The media does not care for one single event of a black girl being shot, but a guy shooting up a daycare center or a school regardless of race brings a lot of attention. These mass shootings usually are done by white men instead of black men within their own communities unless it is racially biased (like the Sikh temple shooting this summer). Mass shootings usually move people a lot more than a single one.

  • Agree to Disagree:

    As a woman of color there is truth behind why certain stories about children of color don’t get a great amount of media attention.

    As a journalist(part realist) not every shooting in the U.S. will become national news. Most news remains regional leaving citizens in certains areas to only know about it. When it all boils down to: What is more newsworthy? A child being shot across the street from you, or mass shooting at a Conn. Elementary School? Both are very sad, but weighs differently (sad but true). It also becomes very irksome when a tragedy like this occurs people say “If it were a black school it wouldn’t matter,” or vice-versa “If Trayvon Martin were Latin or White it wouldn’t have mattered.”

    We’ve been on this Earth for centuries and race has always (and will probably always)be an issue. Why not mourn and/or remember the children lost in the shooting, or focus on the main issue at hand like potential gun regulations. Apparently something has to be done to keep senseless shooting deaths from occuring, by the hands of those who are unstable.

    From Chicago, Connecticut, Texas to Florida let’s remember every child,parent, or loved-one lost.

  • seriously?

    That’s the problem not enough people care. Oh but they will care if it’s a lot of people one time and they will especially care if it’s children-all life is valuable rather its one or many. If enough people cared and took action against The loose gun laws when it was just the “one” we wouldn’t have to fear for the “many”.
    its unfortunate that something have to be an example for people to “get it” sacrifices has to be made to get everyone heartstrings pulling in order for actions to occur.
    Now everyone wants to talk about gun control? I’m pretty sure something will change because of what happen. Trayvon Martin case wasn’tt enough too…..”racially charge”, the shooting at the movie theatre? Yep yep now were getting better! talks are beginning but ohh it got lost between all the politics and the Running for white house, sad as it was not enough innocence to keep the momentum strong
    But children? that’ll do it!
    cause see the nation was upset before. Fire up the next time
    But all too lose their voices from the media, but now? Now people are going to make sure that congress keeps on this issue and will never forget what happen.
    I understand we want to look at the issue as simply young lives stolen and not America cares cause it white kids! But until we address all the under lying issue of what it takes for people to care we can never leave such surface issues as this. And simply ignoring it is allowing your subconscious to still keep apathetic attitudes alive.