I originally wrote this piece about my personal experiences with gun violence and Bob Costas's comments in regards to the Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide incident that stunned the football fans. The comments were made during the halftime of a Sunday Night football game and the video can be found here.
Then, on a Friday morning two days after I had written the original piece, a man broke into a school with Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, a Glock 10 mm handgun and a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun. Twenty children between the ages of six and seven were killed as well as six women.
I have not changed the original body of piece, leaving parts which refer to Kassandra Perkins' murder. I would like to preface this article by saying that since the Newtown tragedy, guns have killed 114 people in the United States. Eighty-eight adults, four teenagers and twenty-two children.
Growing up, local news reports about people being gunned down in neighborhoods fifteen minutes away from where I lived were common. The news reports were not something I could relate to; however, one day that all changed.
I was probably eight or nine years old at the time and coming home from my afterschool program. The transportation company in charge of dropping me off at the time drove down my street and we saw a barrage of cop cars and an ambulance in front of my house. My mother was waiting for me outside with one of our neighbors.
“What happened?” I asked, after quickly getting out of the car fearing that something had happened to my father or my brother.
“Someone’s been shot in the building,” my mother responded.
I was stunned.
At that moment, those news reports ceased being distant occurrences. They became part of my reality and shocked my conscious. That night I watched the local news programs to see if they were going to talk about the shooting, so I could make sense of it—they did not.
I quickly learned that not every murder made the news. I wondered how many other people were shot and killed that day or that week that the news anchors deemed unnecessary to report.
If I said I felt safe coming home from my after school program after the shooting I would be lying. As soon as my parents buzzed me in the building, I ran up four flights of stairs without looking back. Shortly after the shooting, we moved.
The next time I witnessed a shooting was during the summertime. It was the middle of a hot day and I had just returned home from the library and was about to catch up on some chores. I heard a loud bang and my mother yell in horror. I ran to her room and saw her looking out the window.
A crowd had gathered and there were people screaming in the street. Someone had been shot. Fortunately, my mother made sure that I did not see the body on the ground, but I did see the blood. To this day, that bloodstain on the street haunts me.
If I said I felt safe walking down the street that a man was killed on, I would be lying. Whenever I find myself walking on that street, I walk faster.
Two summers after that murder, I remember sitting near the window on a Sunday afternoon. All of a sudden, I heard popping noises and at first, I attributed them to the illegal firecrackers that are often fired during the summer.
Then I saw someone running with a shining object pointed at my apartment building. He did not fire the gun again and just ran off. One of my neighbors in the apartment building next to us showed my dad a shell casing that entered his home.
If I find myself in a situation where I am outside and it is ominously quiet, my heart races, filling with terror as I say quick prayers.
This summer four young women were shot and three of them were killed who lived near me. Many of my friends knew the women personally and were deeply affected by their murders. They had to say goodbye to their friends.
In Chicago this summer, there was one weekend where 56 people were shot. Fifty-six.
There were the shootings in Aurora, Wisconsin, outside the empire state building, the three teenagers in Philadelphia, Oklahoma, near Texas A&M University, Oregon, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and many, many more.
We have a problem as a society if we cannot even talk about the senseless murders at the hands of guns without one side getting mad and condemning the other. Bob Costas, was not advocating banning guns in his comments. Neither am I. There are some very responsible gun users in our society. However, we do have a culture that promotes violence.
Consider the shock that news anchors felt when New York experienced that one day where there were no homicides. How backwards are we that we find that astonishing?
Costas was right to point out that the conflict between Kassandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher would have probably turned out differently without the gun. And yes, the people who were angry at Bob Costas has the right to point out that Belcher was also using prescription drugs and abusing alcohol which may have contributed to the crime.
However, a young child is left without parents because of guns. This is not a reality limited only to Kassandra Perkin’s daughter, but Perkin’s daughter lost her mother the same way one of my very close friends lost hers. My friend’s mother was shot to death in front of her two children.
This is not normal. The constant violence, whether it is at the hands of guns, is not something that we just accept as a normal part of life.
The fear one feels in their own neighborhood is not normal. Kids having to stay inside the house because parents are afraid that a stray bullet is going to enter into their bodies, killing them or causing damage to their bodies is not normal.
Pulling out a gun because some unruly teenagers do not want to turn their music down is not normal. Killing the mother of your children because you are angry with her is not normal. Breaking into a school and killing small children is not normal. Having political leaders unwilling to talk about these realities because of pressure from gun lobbies is not normal.
Costas claims that these events often have a way of putting things in perspective, which is true. Days after the murder-suicide there was a conversation about drugs, the NFL, domestic abuse and guns.
Less than a week after his comments, twenty-seven people were gunned down. Everyone was horrified by this senseless act of violence and there was another conversation about guns, mental health and our culture.
Though Newtown certainly feels different, it is important to point out that these issues have a very short shelf life in the news and in our daily lives, because life goes on and another big news story gets in the way.
I would like to leave you with this question, which President Obama posed to us as a nation after Newtown: “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited upon our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"