#BreakingBlack: Gun violence and the year of hopeless thinking

OPINION - We are demonstrably unable to come to terms with the societal pathologies that fuel violence in our culture...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Fanny Casara was making Christmas dinner that afternoon when her granddaughter left the house. She promised she would not be long. After all, the family was planning a trip to her mother’s house later that day. When the 17-year-old did not return, the family repeatedly called her cell phone.

Just before 8 p.m. that night, 17-year-old Eva Casara was found by a passerby slumped over in a bank of snow. She lay there, pregnant and bleeding from a gunshot to back of her head. Her purse and money were gone. Her iPhone was missing too. They had even taken her coat.

“They treated her like a dog and just shot her in the back of the head,” Fannie told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Cold and alone, Eva was left for dead in an alleyway between two houses. The medical team at Franciscan St. Margaret Health Hospital in Hammond, Indiana was able to keep her alive just long enough to save her baby girl.

Eva was only 5 ½ months along in her pregnancy. The baby, weighing just1 ½ pounds, is now in a neonatal intensive care unit at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

Two of the killers—one of whom is the father of her child—are now in police custody, charged with first-degree murder. The manhunt is on for the third. Eva was not the intended victim, they admit. According to police, it was a drug deal, a robbery or both gone terribly wrong. Unbeknownst to Eva, her “friends” had planned to rob the “weed man” before he sped away. They shot at the fleeing car. They did not know, they claimed, that Eva was still inside. She was dumped by the driver when she was discovered gurgling in the backseat.

It is hard to talk about gun violence and not mention the horrors that continue to unfold in Chicago. But the truth is tragedies like these are playing out in cities across the country. But it seems no one in Washington is listening.

No one.

After 20 school children and their teachers were massacred in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, many expected a flurry of gun control laws. Well-intentioned lawmakers introduced legislation to ban assault style weapons and high capacity magazines. There was a renewed focus on stepping up background checks and closing the “gun-show” loophole. Many advocated greater access to mental health services, while others pointed to violent content found in popular culture, including movies and video games.

Meanwhile, not a single piece of legislation that would effectively curtail gun violence has been voted on or signed into law. One bill, cowardly enacted by a voice vote in Congress, extended the ban on plastic weapons. Incomprehensibly, statehouses around the country used the rise in violent gun crime to stoke fears and pass laws that effectively afford greater access to guns. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre wants “armed police officers” in every school.

Despite what cable news pundits and well-meaning members of Congress might tell you, almost none of this would have saved Eva. Since Newtown, almost 35,000 people have died as a result of gun violence in this country. While six in ten were self-inflicted, the national conversation around gun homicides has veered wildly off-course. The knee-jerk reactions from both ends of the ideological spectrum are maddening. They are, it seems, in search of a mythical boogeyman.

The real monster here is labored indifference.

We are demonstrably unable to come to terms with the societal pathologies that fuel violence in our culture. Unless and until we are able to confront the broken infrastructure of public education, poverty—the number-one indicator of violent crime—will be pervasive. The American Dream—the golden bridge of economic mobility—is marred with inequities in access the education, quality healthcare, and affordable housing. The statistics are clear. For instance, children who receive a solid early childhood education, who go on to graduate high school and attend college, are the least likely to pick up a gun.

If you cannot dry up the supply, quell the demand.

The best way to stop a bullet is with a book, but we are a society hell bent on building more prisons than schools. We would rather hire more police than train and pay more teachers. Our policy is more about fear and containment than investment and solutions.

But the so-called “war on poverty” has meant nothing more than a pitched battle against the least of these—the people who fight to survive on the margins. Rather than partnering with communities in significant ways, the public discourse has become replete with voices that seek to demonize what is quickly becoming a permanent underclass. The argument is too often framed as “the givers and the takers,” which is nothing more than a moral indictment used to assuage any notion of social responsibility.

It is not a question of guns or people. It is both. Until we deal with that head on, young girls like Eva will continue to die.

To be perfectly honest, I was never among those who believed we would meet these issues head on. I never once believed we would deal effectively with the cheap, already illegal handguns so readily available on the streets of any given American city. I harbored no hope that, despite the uproar after Aurora and Newtown, we would ban assault style weapons or limit ammunition, never thought twice about the probability of more background checks. And after the most recent bloody summer in Chicago, I certainly never believed we would take a serious look at public education and job training as a means to solving poverty and related gang violence.

This year, as I watched a plethora of televised news segments and assorted documentaries, my hopes for a meaningful, comprehensive set of solutions continued to fade. I sometimes wonder, some four decades after my father’s murder and 23 years after we laid my brother to rest, if as a nation we are truly interested in ending the genocide unfolding on our streets. If not now, when?

For me, this has been the year of hopeless thinking.

Editor’s Note: This has been a #breakingBLACK column. Goldie Taylor is a featured Grio columnist and her #breakingBlack columns will regularly appear every MondayFollow Goldie Taylor on Twitter at @GoldieTaylor, and join the discussion at @theGrio with the hashtag #BreakingBlack.