“A 17-year-old has been arrested in the shooting of a 13-year-old boy who was caught in crossfire Wednesday evening shortly after he stepped off a school bus. . . “
17 years old. 13 years old. Babies.

8th grade girl’s bullet ridden body. Girlfriend of the 8th grade boy shot the day before. Possibly for shooting hoops (not bullets) in the wrong neighborhood.

And a woman is summoned to the morgue. She stands behind a window. The shades are drawn and lifted. On a shiny metal slab is a body. The body of her son. Of her daughter. Her knees give out. She drops to the floor. She keens. She wails. She cries. She tried her best and yet, there is her child. In the morgue. Nothing but a statistic in the ongoing gun battle. When another boy died the day before, in New Orleans East, the gunman shot a dog. A pitbull named Spartacus. A great dog. Protected the family. Wonderful dog. A fund is quickly formed to pay for the surgery needed for the dog. The humans have to figure out the funeral and the grieving themselves. A senseless tragedy.

Across town another woman quakes in the sterile halls of a hospital. The child whose eyes she sheltered as the pediatrician administered the well baby shots now has needles attached to tubes in both arms. The doctor tells her that her son might not walk again as the bullet nicked the spinal cord. The doctor tells her that her daughter might not see as the bullet might have caused some irreversible nerve damage. She cries silently and only outside the room. Her knees can’t buckle. She’ll have to be strong to help her child through this. She’ll have to figure out the hospital bills and the rehabilitation and the permanent changes to her house and life that this injury will cause. She’ll have to figure it out herself. A senseless tragedy.

In another part of town, a woman watches as the son she held up by both hands as he learned to walk takes his last steps as a free person. He is held on both arms now, by uniformed officers and there are chains around the ankles she delighted in seeing wobble uncertainly 16 years earlier. She may never get a chance to speak to her child except through glass again. He’s still so young but his life is over. She doesn’t understand why he picked up a gun and pulled the trigger. She tried so hard to keep him from that. She will blame herself. She will cry into her pillow alone in the dark, wishing she could hear his step in her house once more. She’ll get little if any support in her loss. She’ll keen and she’ll wail and she’ll notice the averted eyes of her neighbors and hear them clucking behind their drawn shades. She’ll obsess over what she did wrong, mentally analyzing every minute of those 17 years. She’ll never figure it out herself. A senseless tragedy.

A week from now is Mother’s Day. We send candy, flowers, fruit with chocolate covering. We send whatever we think Mom would like.

These mom’s would like nothing more than to have their kids bitch about the curfew they imposed, or hear their kids complain about the spaghetti they’re eating when they wanted something else. They won’t get that. They will get silence. They’ll be trying to decide where to put the memorial card. They’ll be trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage or the rent after ante-ing up the cost of the funeral, or the hospital bill, or the payment to the lawyer or bondsman. They’ll be staring into a closet filled with the clothes that their kids cared about. Wow. She loved that red skirt. Wow. He was so proud of that Saint’s jersey. And she’ll stand at the closet, and she’ll stand at the door, and she’ll jump at the sound of the phone. Then she’ll turn around and realize that he or she isn’t coming home. Then she’ll stare into a casket, or a hospital bed, or a prison visitor booth looking at her child, the one she carried, the one she taught to walk, the one she taught the alphabet to, in that red skirt or that Saint’s jersey, not looking like she remembered as he or she vaulted out the door laughing at her overprotectiveness.

These are kids. Our kids. Their kids. OUR kids.

The blood is running down the streets like water after a rainstorm. The cop shop says isn’t it terrible. The DA files a case against the accused. We all jump with glee that the asshole that did the shooting is caught.

And the mothers keen. And the mothers will never recover. And the family is broken beyond repair. And the mothers keen.

Why are we not looking at the societal issues that cause a 17 year old kid to feel that shooting a gun is the only way to settle a debt, or a moment of disrespect, or to make them a man? Why are guns so easily bought? Are we entering an entirely Darwinian age? Those who are the strongest by virtue of the weapons they carry are the winners? Really? Why are not furious at this situation?

Why are we not raging at the idiots who rail in newspaper comments’ sections that we don’t need more and better schools, or after school programs, or more teachers, or more mentors. What we need, they say, is more prisons, harsher prison sentences, more locks and keys. More cemeteries perhaps? Certainly more guns, in my purse, in my pocket, strapped to my ankle, hey, come to the coffee shop for a conceal carry class. It’s free.

People. THINK. FEEL. LOOK AT THIS MESS.

I frankly don’t think the “Framers” had this in mind when they wrote the second amendment. Do ya really think they envisioned “that a Glock is due to all?” I think the NRA and their big bucks lobbying is part of the problem, not the solution. Call me a commie. Call me a socialist. Call me whatever you want. Are you really that cold that you can’t imagine for one minute what being in the place of one of those mothers would feel like? Seriously? Without the guns the kids would have a fist fight, you know, like the old days, and the mom would pull out the iodine and the bandaids. Without the guns the mom would have to explain that sometimes leaving the fight is the better choice. Without the guns the mother would be able to make pancakes for their kid on Mother’s Day while bitching that they should have made them for her.

Ah. I see. Y’all are reading this thinking to yourselves that these Mom’s are all, oh, I dunno, crack whores, welfare queens, certainly baby mama’s that didn’t think ahead. Certainly some are, and you bet there’s some really bad parenting going on, but you’d be overwhelmingly wrong on one count. Statistics show that most welfare moms are white. But hell, why should a fact interfere with your pre-conceived notion of the world? I mean, really? You have your ideas, and thems the facts regardless of proof to the opposite.

Nevermind your latent (or not so latent) racism. Yeah. I know. You’re not a racist. You have a black friend. Maybe. Okay, not a friend exactly but a black person you work with. And that let’s you skate. In your mind. How is it that you assume that the children mentioned above are black? Why not Hispanic or Asian? Oh yeah. Asians are good at math. Nevermind the Asian gangs. Or the Hispanic gangs. Or the WHITE gangs. Think Aryan Brotherhood. Or Neo Nazi’s. What the hell is that about? We have a wife of a North Carolina (I think) senator talking about how some proposition before a vote that is mostly about gay marriage will somehow protect the “Caucasians”. No. I couldn’t make that up. All of them have guns, possibly even that Senator’s wife. (Hey, Second Amendment sez we can, you stupid liberal bitch. I can have a whole bushel of them, and I can’t help it if those project people, or the barrio people, or the trailer park people, or the Chinese alley people have them too. I need MINE to protect myself from them, so stow it.)

You are also probably assuming, along with the fact that all these tragedies are only found within black communities, that the Moms we’re talking about are single and unemployed. Nice indictment of an entire segment of our society—easy, bumper sticker thinking: Teen mother, on welfare, lives in project, no husband. While certainly that tidy little stereotype exists, it cannot be applied to everyone. We gotta stop that. Besides, it is really insulting to all those dads out there who are holding up their buckling wives.

In New Mexico the blood is running too. Only there the commenters say: “Yeah well the vatos are shooting each other. Probably illegals anyway.” Every major metropolitan area has the blood of children running in the streets, it’s not just us. This is a nationwide problem that more prisons and more cemeteries won’t fix.

It comes down to what kind of country do you want.

One where every one is armed and we assume the “other” is dangerous? Those kinds of assumptions get people killed. Ask Trayvon Martin’s family.

Or how about one where everyone is scared to death of the police they should be able to turn to when there is a real danger? An over-amped paramilitary crew with itchy trigger fingers and only rare and lengthy (let’s get past a couple of news cycles and it’ll fade away) accountability?

Or one where we take an entire generation of kids and just consider them lost to the streets? Even that choice would require that some pre-emptive and positive action be taken for the tiny ones. Things like daycare options, education that’s meaningful to them, and I dunno, FOOD. Wouldn’t be a bad thing to add some healthcare options in there. Mental health care, the red headed step-child, as well.

It’s easy to say the P word if it’s prison. Not so easy if it’s poverty.

By now, if you’re still reading this, you are either arguing with me, agreeing (maybe only in part) with me, or tossing your sandwich at the monitor hollering “Apologist!” I never once said that the shooters should go unpunished, I only decried the loss of a young person’s life to an irrevocably bad choice in pulling that trigger. What I am saying is that we, as a nation, as a city, as a neighborhood, need to figure out why so many make that choice. We need to decide if we’re going to be a reactionary, Darwinian society where the bigger bullet wins, and the blood runs down the streets, and the children are carted away in hearses and ambulances and cop cars and prison vans, and we’re okay with that. Or are we going to take a long hard look at this seemingly intractable problem of violence, and a really good look at ourselves in the mirror under the harshest light we can find. In doing that we’ll have to face some hard truths: some of us run to the easy fear, the easy stereotype, the easy racism, the easy .38. Our shoulders have to start cramping up from all the fucking shrugging we do at some point. Our necks will seize up if we keep shaking our heads upon hearing the news. Our tears must give way to outrage. Once that happens we have to find a way to listen to each other and not shout each other down as we look for solutions. There are no quick fixes, but we can’t just throw up our hands and throw these kids away.

These are kids. Our kids. Their kids. OUR kids.

And the sound you hear next Sunday emanating from houses all over this country won’t be back up singers for your favorite band. They’ll be mothers. Wailing. Keening. The Stabat Mater Dolorosa rising in sorrow. Inconsolable.

As we should be.

Sam Jasper is currently waging a largely silent war against gravity and gravitas. It’s a delicate balance. Sam is co-editor of A Howling in the Wires (2010) and a partner in Gallatin and Toulouse Press. She was a contributor to Pelican Press’ Louisiana in Words (2007), and reprised her contributor role in the Chin Music Press’ Where We Know (2010). Sam also erratically maintains a blog called New Orleans Slate (named not after the online mag but the roofing tiles of old buildings and the primary school chalkboard on which the nun’s pointer hung) and has a collection of letters written immediately after Katrina at the Katrina Refrigerator blog. Sam is also a regular contributor at the Back of Town blog.

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