“none among us should feel unsafe moving about/through the world, on the earth, in the out-of-doors, breathing fresh air; our children shouldn’t have to be locked up behind barred windows & triple locked doors like caged animals in order to feel safe. Chicago’s South & West Sides are like Palestine is like Pakistan is like Iraq is like Afghanistan and everywhere, the shooter is the same.”
Her name is Hadiya Pendleton, but it could be Trayvon, or Oscar, or Kiwane. It could be Muslim girls named Hadiyah/Haadiya/Hadiyya, a name that means a “guide to righteousness. Calm. A gift.” As they all are. Girls with this name have “a deep, inner desire to inspire others in a higher cause, and to share their own strongly held views on spiritual matters.” This is the work Hadiya has done. Shot to death, unexpectedly; wrong place, wrong time. At the level of spiritual understanding, she is an abiku: one who came, looked around, and decided not to stay, though she remains a guide to our righteousness.
Hadiya belongs to the growing list of children for whom we, as a community, collectively mourn. Death crosses borders: temporal, spatial, and emotional. The sentient among us kneel before the long procession of coffins to say our goodbyes; to shake our heads and silently ask why, a question that echoes through time.
There is no doubt that any sudden, senseless death is tragic. As of December 2012, over 270 school-aged children had been killed in Chicago over three years; a trend that has gone pretty much unabated since before I left Chicago, 15 years ago. Prior to my departure, I had dedicated Black History month performances to children who had died violently the previous year; children the Chicago Suntimes had collectively memorialized on its New Year’s front page. But after year three, both the Suntimes and I got weary of the reiteration. It had done no good. Children still died. And now, Hadiya has gone.
Five human beings
Sitting on the wall
When bang goes the darn dreaded gun
And we see a body fall
“Who died?” asked he curious
“A little baby,” said a kid
“Who grieves?” asked the furious.
Certainly the family and mother did
One commenter to a story about Hadiya said, ‘if she had just been able to conceal and carry, she wouldn’t be dead.” Such is the logic of those who wave the Constitution like an AR-15 in defense of their guns and God. But what about Hadiya? What of her rights as she stood in the park, seeking shelter from the rain, surrounded by friends – gangbangers, or so they say. Three among them were shot, the remainder ran. They didn’t stay around to help or give any information about the boy/man who jumped the fence, ran towards them, fired, jumped into a car, and sped away. They might know, but they’re not telling; perhaps plotting street justice. No doubt some of them were concealing and carrying, without permits, but that didn’t save Hadiya.
Wrong place, wrong time, as were the children of Sandy Hook, as were the movie goers in Colorado, when young, enraged White males shattered their systems of security and stole the innocence of America, once again; aberrant, troubled sons. Our society reeks of violence. It’s difficult to remain unaffected when its symbols are as ubiquitous as air: perpetual wars, poverty, and policies that kill; pulsating with the same intensity as neon signs selling soft drinks. Hollywood momentarily delayed its carnage to allow an appropriate period of grief; but this is the marketplace. Time is money. And even tragedies are mined for profit.
So who is to blame, the media? The mothers? In Sandy Hook, the mother armed her child, yet her actions don’t indict White motherhood, the way Black motherhood is always/already on trial for multiple system failures: failure to properly monitor, to provide, to breed responsibly with responsible men, failure to learn, to educate, to actively participate in their children’s lives, to escape the stranglehold of intergenerational/motherline dysfunction. But where were the Sandy Hook and Aurora fathers?
One human being all alone on the wall
When Bang, goes the dreaded gun
And we see that last body fall
“Well, who died?” asked the curious.
“A young White boy,” said a cop.
“Who grieves?” asked the furious.
The entire world so you know it’s time for this to stop.
Cause now there are none.
Just prior to writing this, I heard on the radio of a 15 year-old Black boy who was sentenced as an adult to 20 years for using a gun during a robbery of a Check –N-Go. The judge says the people deserve protection from him. Johannes Mehserle only got 18 months for killing Oscar, and the police officer who killed young Kiwane never served a day. The judge sends the clear message that gun violence will not be tolerated in his county, despite the fact that, just days after Sandy Hook, his county registered record gun sales, particularly for assault rifles and high volume magazines. So, what are we saying?
The history of Blacks and guns has been a contentious one since Europeans introduced guns to Africans to facilitate the capture and enslavement of Africans, and the theft of the land. While the Second Amendment guaranteed American citizens the right to keep and bear arms, that right was long withheld from African America. During the Civil War, Blacks were armed in defense of the Union, but immediately thereafter, they were again restricted in defense of themselves. Guns in the hands of Black men and women have been perceived as threats to White superiority except in when its service, but Robert F. Williams emerged in the 1950s to assert the right of African America to arm itself, and the Panthers said, “Right On!”
Guns as tools of terror, whether held by police or gangbangers, have been functional. In the neighborhood where I lived prior to moving to C-U, shootings/killings were a common occurrence. I decided to leave when, on the first warm day of 1997 while returning home, I came upon a large crowd. I rolled down the car window and heard a voice from inside the circle cry out, “Oh Lord, why they kill my baby?” When I got up into my third floor apartment, I looked down and saw the white sheet covering the body of “Boo,” my babysitter’s youngest child. She had had just turned 18 and was preparing to graduate the next week, heading to college. Wrong place/wrong time. I moved my children away shortly thereafter. Within two years, the neighborhood became gentrified, and the three bedroom apartment for which I paid $600 rent was now a $350K condominium.
It was said in one news report that Hadiya’s parents had planned to move to a better community; away from the violence. I pray they still will. A week prior to Hadiya’s death, I read the report of another mother who had just lost the last of her four children. All had been killed by guns. I can’t imagine their sorrow.
Hadiya had just experienced what must have been the highlight of her short life: performing at the second inauguration of the nation’s first Black president; a Chicago son. What an honor that must have been for her. It remains to be seen how he will honor her.
Amira Davis is a mother & grandmother, artist, community educator, & visiting lecturer in the Department of African American Studies.