Guest post: "Seven children or teens are shot dead in America every day"
Gary Younge spent two years finding out everything he could about the children and teens shot dead on a single day - one of the most shocking things he saw was the blame directed at parents
Author and journalist
Posted on: Thu 29-Sep-16 15:40:08
(31 comments )
At St Joseph's Cemetery in Franklin County, Ohio, a range of small pamphlets to assist the bereaved are lined up on a stand in the reception. They contain pretty much every permutation of grief: 'Losing Your Mom', 'Losing Your Dad', 'Losing Your Husband', 'Losing Your Wife', 'Talking with Your Kids about Funerals', 'When Death Comes Unexpectedly', and 'Grieving the Death of a Grown Son or Daughter'. The only one that's missing is: 'Losing Your Young Child'. Because that's not supposed to happen.
But it happened to Nicole Fitzsimmons. Her nine-year-old son, Jaiden, lies in St Joseph's Cemetery. On 22 November 2013, Jaiden answered the door before school and Nicole's former partner, and the father of one of her children, shot him in the head at point-blank range. He then sped off, shot a former partner at work (but didn't kill her) and was finally killed in a shoot-out with police.
Jaiden, a sweet-natured boy with a smile almost too big for his face, died the next day. Every day on average seven children or teens are shot dead in America. I picked a day at random and spent almost two years finding out everything I could about them. This was the day that Jaiden died.
When I first met Nicole, four months after her son's death, she was wearing a hoodie bearing Jaiden's name and face and the word 'Legendary'; she wore one of a different colour every day. She also wore a necklace spelling Jaiden's name in curly script. She has another made from his thumbprint, which was taken at the funeral home. It was her birthday, but she hadn't let on to her co-workers and had no plans to do anything special that night. She still wasn't going out much.
Firearms are the leading cause of death of black children under the age of 19 in America. This, it turned out, was the primary focus of black parenting in poor areas. Keeping your kid alive.
When I met up with her again five months later she was still struggling. If she slept the nightmares came; if she didn't she couldn't get up for work. 'It was like before then I was in a theater watching this movie, and since then it's been like walking into a parking lot and trying to adjust to the bright lights from being so engrossed in this movie for so long. It's like the places I used to go to look different to me because it's this post-movie kind of thing.'
Around seven hours later and 1,000 miles away in Dallas, another mother would lose her son to a gun. Samuel Brightmon, 16, was walking his friend home around 11 o'clock at night when he was shot dead. Nobody knows why. Samuel, an obliging fragile homebody, didn't know anyone in the neighbourhood. They had only just moved there. Audry Smith, his mother, rushed to the scene and cradled him for his last moments. She said she knew he had died because the ambulance she was following turned its siren off.
A few months after the shooting, every Saturday night, Audry was still putting on the same clothes she wore the night he died – a pair of pink jogging pants and a T-shirt that says 'All stressed out and no one to choke'. 'It's not even intentional sometimes,' she said. 'I just find myself with it on. Every Saturday, around the same time, I'm angsty. I don't go to sleep. I never go to sleep until the Sunday morning, only to wake up in tears.'
One of the most shocking things I learned while writing the book was how common it was – particularly for black parents – to be blamed if their child was shot. Following the brief news story about Samuel's death, one reader wrote: 'I have two adult kiddos and there's no way they would've been out walking streets after dark, AND I always knew where they were. I do not blame the victims but all parents could do better.'
In fact Samuel had been enjoying a family night that night with Audry, playing UNO, drinking cocoa and watching 'We're The Millers'. He was walking his friend back the five minutes to his grandmother's house. Audry knew exactly where he was. She just couldn't save him.
Of the 10 kids who were shot dead that day, seven were black, two were Latino, and one was white. Firearms are the leading cause of death of black children under the age of 19 in America. This, it turned out, was the primary focus of black parenting in poor areas. Keeping your kid alive.
As one father, whose son was shot dead just a couple of hours later, told me: ‘'You wouldn’t really be doing your job as a parent here if you didn't think it could happen.'
Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge is out now (Guardian Faber, £16.99).
By Gary Younge
Yes, all that is very sad. For Americans.
Such is the downfall of democracy. None of this will change until Americans vote the right to bear arms out of their Constitution.
There are so many horrible stories America needs to ban firearms it's as simple as that
I've been listening to this in Radio 4. It's so sad and very difficult to listen to but very beautifully researched and presented. Thank you.
Yes, all that is very sad. For Americans.
It's sad for people from the UK too. Just because we do not share their laws, it does not mean we can not stand with them as mothers in heartbreak.
I find your comment heartless. These mothers did not agree to the firearm laws set by the people in power in their county.
It's just too many.
Too many shootings of kids, too many mass shootings in schools, too many police shootings, too many gang shootings. Just too many shootings full stop.
And that is the problem in America. The guns and their free availability to pretty much anyone.
We have had one school shooting in the UK and once was enough. Our already tough gun laws were tightened even further. Yes, there are still shootings but nowhere near as many as in the USA. I can't imagine living in a place where you fear your CHILD getting shot just for going outside.
It's time for Americans to say enough. No more guns. They aren't needed. There is no requirement for people to own semi-automatics or guns that can shoot multiple bullets in seconds. No need.
Until that day then this will continue. Kids will die, people will mourn but they will still defend their right to own a gun. To take shopping, to take on a day out, to take on the school run.
In my world you check you've got lunch, keys, phone, purse. In my world I'd never want to check that I've got my gun.
I agree with Cote. How many gun deaths do there have to be in America before they change the firearms laws.
Kinder Eggs are banned? Wtf.
Flyhighlittlebee but all mums are complicit in the decisions made by "the people in power in the country" through inaction and/or voting in presidents bought by the NRA including Clinton. And complicit by voting in a Senate who, after Obama was elected, had more power than Obama when it came to Gun Control. The Senate is now pro-Guns. Mums voted them in.
It's a terrible situation for Americans. I will never allow a child of mine to live there, as a mum.
Horrible situation. It seems like such an entrenched mentality for so many people, though I know many are fighting it. I think even if gun ownership laws were tightened right up, with the majority of them banned, they're are so many in circulation the problem wouldn't just go away. Maybe target laws at purchasing ammo instead, people would run out eventually.
Yup, Kinder Eggs are banned (I know of two stores here that sell them, though, and I get a bit of a thrill purchasing something illegal, even if the only illegal purchases I have ever made are crap chocolate with a plastic toy )
However long I live in the US I will never ever get used to guns (and I hope, actually, I never do). I am only just starting to understand the attitude that many Americans have towards them, and don't think that we will see a ban on guns in our lifetime. I still think that there is much more that could be done to tighten up licensing regulations however. Until then, more children will die.
(Incidentally, the vast majority of shootings of children are perpetrated by men - not something that gets mentioned very often in the reporting)
These mothers did not agree to the firearm laws set by the people in power in their county.
But, practically, how can the law be changed when there is so much popular support for guns?
The NRA seem to be powerful lobbyists, but they also seem to represent the views of a significant number of voters.
"These mothers did not agree to the firearm laws set by the people in power in their county."
They live in a democracy, yes? Rather than tug at heartstrings of MNers on the other side of the world, this journalist should be campaigning for Americans to "stand with them as mothers in heartbreak".
Then they might have a chance of changing the laws that allow so many people to buy & carry firearms.
You call that heartless. I call it pragmatic.
If america wants to solve this, get gun control. Everyone there has a free vote.
I read this article last weekend. It's heartbreaking.
I have spoken with some seemingly intelligent and 'normal' Americans who would not want to give up their right to keep a gun. It was a cultural thing, a historical thing, a defence thing. It shocked, confused and terrified me 20 years ago. It still does.
Thanks Gary Younge, excellent article.
I really admire your work on this important issue and have been horrified by your radio 4 programmes on it. The poor children like Samuel (a homebody, shot in the street while walking an equally blameless friend home after an evening of family games and cocoa) who were at daily risk of being shot and whose deaths were unreported due to a racist society.
Shame on America.
When nothing changed after Sandy Hook, that was the end of it. Once you've decided that small children being murdered in their classroom is an acceptable price to pay for 'freedom', then the debate is over.
I actually do feel as if I understand the American attitude to guns. I know as well that for every supporter of the current legal situation, Europeans wringing their hands over it achieves precisely nothing. (Not including Gary Younge in this as he's living there).
I listened to this on the radio too. It was all terribly sad, and infuriating too.
It's hard for Europeans to understand. It's frankly quite alien everyone having a gun.
I really felt for all the children and young people you profiled.
I heard the radio 4 programmne and have now flight the e versionof the book. It's interesting and very very sad in places. Lots of the book is alien to me, the opinions on guns, the talk about racial segregation, the description of the school system. I can'tpretend to understand.
I must read this, we didn't have gun laws like the US but they were more obtainable than now.
I'm in Hobart Tasmania. I was here all those years ago in the 90's when during one fateful day the whole city came to a standstill. Well, except for emergency services, all were deployed. Choppers landed near the ANZAC memorial as it was the closest, clear area near our A&E.
No one here forgets Port Arthur. That isn't just Hobart, it's the whole country. And I am so glad we didn't have the Govt we have now as when it happened then laws changed immediately.
There was a buyback - all weapons were sold or given up, thousands were seized and all were destroyed.
It took ONE massacre in modern times for all of Australia be basically stripped of guns unless you had the required, strict conditions met for a licence for work mostly.
I've had my licence for my old job and as I had a child I didn't use the two safes I could be provided with (one for the Glock, other for clips/bullets), I had it kept with my boss and only carried when it was required for the bigger personal security/VIP jobs.
Simple, no matter how the risk was I didn't want it in my home where I had a toddler.
I can re-register now as I'm still a registered security agent but I'm not working and when I stopped to have DD 12 I was legally allowed to keep it but didn't, of course I handed it in.
I worry about how much worse it will get in the US as the only person who has ever had any ethics about gun control laws there and was facing the NRA has been Obama.
The whole political system seems to be pretty much funded by and based on the NRA, it really does seem that they run the country, not the president.
Or rather they run the president's but Obama was a bit of wild card for them and yet they still managed to make sure nothing was changed.
Oops, sorry, just saw Ophelia had basically said the same about the NRA, they do indeed run the country.
What do the Americans think of us? That we're all terribly wet dishrag socialists who accept far too much control from a nanny state? Much seems to be made of guns for self defence in the USA which is a bit odd. Why not just do self defence/ martial arts classes, they'd be a lot more useful. If somebody goes nuts in Tesco with an automatic, I'd be running or hiding not going all SAS on it, as I would assume the shooter was planning on death by cop anyway so would give them a big advantage against me with a Derringer or whatever it is that you keep in your handbag.
I can't understand why any normal rational person would even want a gun in their handbag. It's only purpose is to kill or maim. Is that something most Americans expect or want to do some day, and have the tool to hand just in case?
This is not a county I even want to visit, knowing that most people I'd meet and share space with will have a lethal weapon on their person. Just no.