Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Repost: Keeping our children safe in the face of violence

I've contributed to the Orlando Sentinel's Moms at Work blog since 2010. The blog is changing content management systems and my old posts will no longer be available to the public, so I'm reposting them here, in the order that they were originally posted.

March 13, 2013

All children deserve to be safe, and well-fed and cared for by the people who love them.

Can we all agree on that?

Jonylah Watkins, whose story is posted above, was fed and cared for -- but she wasn't safe. She died this past weekend after she was shot as her father changed her diaper. She was hit by five bullets. Her father, who was injured in the shooting, had no chance to fight back and/or protect himself or his child in that moment. Jonylah was just six months old. To make matters worse, the incident that took her life wasn't the first time her physical environment had been shattered by gunshots; CNN reported that Jonylah's mother sustained a bullet wound to the leg while she was pregnant with the girl.

Stories like this make me feel so sad. Not just for Jonylah's family -- although I can't imagine the grief they feel right now -- but also for her community and the country in which I live. This should never happen. No parent should have to bury a child because of violence or matter-of-factly accept that violence is probable or possible for children who aren't old enough to drive or sign legal contracts. Not in Jonylah's neighborhood, not in anybody else's. Whose fault is it that the girl is dead? That's hard to say.

Sure, the shooter is ultimately responsible. Sure, Jonylah's parents could've lived in a better neighborhood. Sure, if her father was armed and trained and had the presence of mind to act before the shooters, it's possible that the result of the incident might not have been so terrible. And sure, if, as rumored, her father is affiliated with a violent gang, that was obviously a poor decision, too. There are a lot of what-ifs. But none of that changes the fact that something is terribly wrong with that community, that city and our nation because we don't have the stopgaps in place to prevent a baby from dying because of her parents' poor choices.

I was heartened to hear that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he "will not rest" until all children in his city are safe, without exception or regard for the children's economic status. I'm not sure how he'll go about making that happen, but his awareness is at least a tiny step toward the solution of the problem.

What makes me even sadder is that Jonylah isn't alone. In my city, a young man is on trial because the gunshots he fired indiscriminately last year paralyzed a 16-year-old girl and left her only intermittently conscious. And I'm sure there are hundreds if not thousands of similar stories in every state in the union, a fact that is not to our credit as a nation.

Sometimes, I think moms are uniquely positioned to change society's views about things that are threats to our children. Would "Don't drink and drive" have entered into the national consciousness without MADD? And who can forget the mothers of the desaparecidos ("disappeared ones"), who drew international attention to the politically-motivated killings in Argentina three decades ago.

Maybe it'll happen again. Maybe the moms of Jonylah's neighborhood in Chicago, or moms in other places throughout the country will realize that violence in one community is a threat to the safety of all other communities -- that while some people's children are unsafe, none of our children are safe.

Why are so many children in the U.S. living in violent surroundings? What can we do so that, ideally, none, or realistically, fewer, of them spend significant time in places where they're threatened by violence?

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