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A routine day’s killing: investigating children’s gun deaths in the US | Gary Younge

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In a single day in 2013, 10 American children died as a result of gunshot meanders. I wanted to find out why this was nothing out of the ordinary

Some statistics you simply cannot get out of your head. The fact that eight American children every day are shot dead is one of them. When I was first told that, back in 2007, Id lived in the US for four years. Id only had a kid. I believed I was pretty much across most of the counter-narrative to the countrys official apple-pie narrative. But this is one of those facts that, once known, cant be forgotten. It colours everything.

So when I was asked to pick a day and then follow the stories of the children killed in those 24 hours, I pursued it with some zeal. But as I researched the working day in question 26 November 2006 finding households and police records, knocking on neighbours doors, excavating the well-being of the recently dead, one tale remained elusive.

A 16 -year-old boy had been shot outside a Wholesale Liquidators on Eight Mile in Detroit. He was not named in the local papers, where the incident get just a paragraphs attention. I kept excavating, and discovered that the boys name was Brandon Moore and hed been shot in the back by an off-duty policeman. I went on to find out that the policeman in question had been sacked from the force before, for being involved in a fatal hit-and-run accident while drunk-driving, but was reinstated a few years later on appeal. The same policeman went on to shoot dead an armed human during a neighbourhood disagreement, and later shot and injured his wife in a domestic fracas. After shooting Brandon in the back, he was reassigned to a traffic division until he was cleared, following an investigation.

Right then, I decided the project should be a book , not articles; should, because by failing to see the significance of these deaths, journalism clearly wasnt doing its job properly. On any measure, Brandons death was a story for a big-town newspaper. But it seemed that, if you were poor and black, the death of small children was not worthy of press attention. And so they kept falling.

But I required time, resources and opportunity, and those three parts didnt are working together for another seven years. By that time, the statistic was down to seven kids a day( that didnt make it any less horrific ). This time I chose a new day 23 November 2013 and I spent the next two years determining anyone who would talk to me about the kids who had died: mothers, preachers, educators, siblings and carers. I also combed their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, sometimes gaining a glimpse into their short lives only hours before they died.

Ten children were shot dead on 23 November 2013. They fell across the country, in slums and suburbs, in rural hamlets and huge cities; they were black, Latino and white; shot by accident and on purpose, at a sleepover, after an altercation, by bullets that fulfilled their target and others that ran astray. The youngest was nine; the oldest was 19.

There is a clear authorial vulnerability in picking a day at random and seeing what tragedy the universe presents. The book could become an unrelenting tale of woe in which all of the narratives objective up being the same. There is not inevitably a Brandon Moore tale every day. And there was a chance that none of the victims families would talk to me. But that didnt occur: of the 10 who were killed, eight had family who spoke to me. But I didnt know how it was going to turn out when I started.

Since Another Day in the Death of America came out last October, America has been quite distracted. Trumps victory has not exactly left people in the kind of mindframe to take on this kind of nonfiction. So although it has been well received it won the Anthony J Lukas prize from Columbia University and has been a finalist in two other US awards it hasnt sold well there. In Britain, it has done far better.

But then , nowhere else in the western world would this volume is the possibility. So in Britain, readers of all political hues will ask: How can this happen?

Some Americans keep looking for explains beyond the obvious. A significant proportion of the country dont want to talk about handguns and so shift the conversation to the second amendment of the constitution, or focus on parenting. When I did phone-in indicates on US radio, conservatives would often jam the switchboard. I had just three questions for them 😛 TAGEND

Do you think American kids are worse kids than anywhere else in the west?

Do you think American parents are worse mothers than mothers anywhere else in the west?

And finally: Do you love your interpretation of the second amendment more than you love your children?

Then the phone lines genuinely lit up.

Extract

Across town, Nicole was told that Jaiden wouldnt make it. The neurologist told her that Jaidens CT scan was one of the worst shed ever seen. The bullet had taken a route straight to the back of his brain, where it had ricocheted, causing irreparable damage. They set Jaiden on a ventilator while a decision was made about organ donation. I dont remember impression anything, Nicole says. All I remember is having this image of him in his shoes. Hed only set his shoes on, and his T-shirt was on the floor. And now hes in a hospital gown with a thing down his throat. All in about an hour or so.

Jaiden was pronounced dead at 3.47 pm the next day. Until they wheeled him away to the operating room, Nicole maintained it together, but witnessing that was too much to bear. I couldnt watch the doors close, she says. It was almost like they were taking him to have his tonsils out. She had been up for 45 hours. I just remember breaking down and scream, and then somebody set me in a wheelchair and took me out. I didnt go back to the hospital at all.

More about the book

Its easy to mourn lives cut out prematurely but what constructs this volume stand out is the strength of its analysis. Younge counters our understandable reaction to feel more profoundly for innocents or angels by examining the structural roots of a crisis that has resulted in such everyday killings. He nails a succession of myths( or as he calls it, cavorts the straw humen ): that, for example, America is a meritocracy, or that the current crisis resides in the failure of African American households( of the 10 deaths, seven were black, two Hispanic and one white) to discipline their children, or that talking about crime( which he forensically investigates) is a taboo topic among African Americans. Gillian Slovo in the Guardian

Buy the book

Another Day in the Death of America is published by Guardian Faber at 8.99 and is available for 7.64 from the Guardian bookshop. The book has been shortlisted for the Orwell prize for political write. The win will be announced 15 June.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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