image_pdfimage_print

Grim Anniversary of Gun Violence Against Children in Sandy Hook, New York City

NEWTOWN, Conn., -- Nearly one year after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the town has struggled to reclaim its identity as a quaint New England town. A "Welcome to Sandy Hook" sign of angels hung along highway 34.
A "Welcome to Sandy Hook" chain of angels hung along Highway 34 three years ago.

NEW YORK — On a cold, rainy early spring night in 2014, I attended the private meeting of a tragic club nobody wants to join. It was a gathering of parents whose children had been killed as the result of gun violence. They were meeting in a Harlem hair salon under renovation to discuss strategy and allowed me to attend if I kept their names out of the news.

In some cases, the gun that killed their children was fired by a cop, in others by kids. In some cases the guns were fired by adults shooting at each other who hit an innocent bystander by mistake. The circumstances varied, but consequences were the same: All of the parents had to bury a child felled by a bullet.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoThey had gathered to share ideas about how they could convert their pain into public policy. Before the violent killings turned their lives upside down, many had been apolitical, too busy with the demands of work and family to wade into politics. But now, with their sons or daughters buried, they wanted to take that anguish and turn it into something useful, to prevent another parent from joining the club.

As the meeting went deep into the night, the conversation turned toward creating some kind of partnership with the families from Sandy Hook. At the mention of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, an audible grumble spread throughout the room.

One woman spoke up in a West Indian accent.

“Sandy Hook,” she said, shaking her head and making a clicking noise. “All we hear about is Sandy Hook, my Lord. It was sad what happened to those children. It truly was. But what about our pain?”

[Related: Parents Turn Pain into Policy]

It was clear she had struck a nerve. The rest of the room sounded like a church during a particularly fiery sermon. They interjected with shouts of “That’s right!” and vigorous head nods, encouraging her to continue in a call-and-response.

“Where was the president when our children were killed? Where was all the attention? Where was the press? Where was the outpouring of grief? All the soul-searching? We grieved, too. We’re all still grieving. But all we have is each other.”

According to the census, Newtown is 97 percent white, and the median income for a family of four is $100,000. Not one parent in that hair salon was white. Not one parent in the room had much in the way of money. They did not live in spacious houses like the ones that dot the rolling hills of Newtown.

They were not diminishing the pain of the Sandy Hook parents; they were just embittered because they suspected that the color of their children’s skin was wrapped up in the country’s indifference to their suffering.

On average, seven children and teens are killed by a gun every day in the United States. That means in the past four years — since the grotesque spasm of violence that erupted in Newtown when Adam Lanza, 20, slaughtered first graders in his former school — there have been the equivalent of 486 Sandy Hook massacres in this country. Many of the victims may not be as rich, they may not have been slain all in one place, many of them may have been darker, but all of them are just as dead.

https://youtu.be/g5CH0d-DD8o

‘We have to come together’

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook, 91 percent of people in a Quinnipiac poll said they support closing what is popularly known as the gun-show loophole. It allows people who are not licensed gun dealers to sell guns without a background check of their customers. Instead, backed by the NRA, the U.S. Senate voted down comprehensive gun-reform laws in the wake of the murder of 20 children.

That Washington Beltway paradox inspired filmmaker John Richie to spend three years making “91%: A Film About Guns In America.” While filming, Richie traveled across the country, including to Newtown. He spoke to Sandy Hook parents off-camera and said how impressed he was at how those families formed organizations like Sandy Hook Promise, whose members take a bus to Capitol Hill every year to lobby Congress to make changes to reduce the likelihood that another Sandy Hook massacre will happen again.

“If there’s a good reason to remember a tragedy like what happened in Sandy Hook it’s that it reminds us why we need to be more active and committed to doing our civic duty like these families are to ensure we have stronger gun policies that make us all safe,” Richie said.

One of the awful ironies of the massacre at Sandy Hook is that so many of the people made their lives in this idyllic New England village because it seemed so safe. Its family-owned shops, manicured main street and babbling river seemed immune from the chaotic violence that struck it four years ago. It is about 80 miles away from New York City, but the small town feels several worlds away from the likes of Brownsville, Brooklyn, or the housing projects in Harlem. But a dead child has a way of collapsing distance and difference.

“It’s a sad thing to commemorate [the anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary], but if we’re going to find the good in it, it is to realize that we have to come together,” Richie said. “We don’t have a champion to try to push gun reform forward, so it really does fall on us — the people. And I hope the people realize that.”

Toward the end of the 2014 meeting in the Harlem hair salon, Taylonn Murphy, one of the organizers, whose daughter, Tayshana Murphy, was shot to death in the hallway of her apartment building, looked around at the swirl of activity and discussion. These parents had survived the unimaginable, and now they were willing to get to work and do whatever they could to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

He wondered aloud what they could accomplish.

“If a person can deal with the type of tragic events and stress,” he said. “If someone can deal with all that pressure and all that strain, the passion has to be pushing them to do something extraordinary.”

Daryl Khan is the New York bureau chief for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and Youth Today, and an adjunct professor at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

Mothers of Children Slain by NYPD Officers Outraged at Their Raises

Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York’s Eighth Congressional District speaks at a press conference in front of New York Police Department headquarters on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. The mothers of Eric Garner (left) and Ramarley Graham (right), victims of police violence, joined Jeffries in demanding immediate reform from the NYPD.
Democratic New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries speaks at a press conference in front of New York Police Department headquarters on Wednesday. The mothers of Eric Garner (left) and Ramarley Graham (right), victims of police violence, joined Jeffries in demanding immediate reform from the NYPD.

NEW YORK — Gwen Carr and Constance Malcolm walked slowly toward the podium, about to speak of the tragedies that brought them together yet again. But when their eyes met the cameras, their blank expressions said it all.

They are mothers of men killed by the police. They have dedicated themselves to reform what they describe as a system that will not provide justice for their sons.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoAt a press conference Wednesday outside the headquarters of the largest police department in the country, both women expressed outrage over the New York Police Department continuing to give raises to officers involved in their children’s killings.

The officer in question, Daniel Pantaleo, applied a chokehold while arresting Carr’s son, Eric Garner, in 2014. Garner was unarmed and nonviolent, and his repeated cries that he could not breathe were captured on the now infamous video, sparking protests here and nationwide.

Although a medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, a grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo — or any of the other NYPD officers involved in Garner’s death. A federal civil rights investigation into Garner’s death remains ongoing.

The NYPD stripped Pantaleo of his badge and gun and demoted him to a desk job. On Monday, however, Politico reported that Pantaleo made nearly $120,000 this fiscal year after receiving overtime pay and “unspecified pay,” which could be retroactive pay or bonuses.

Two NYPD officers look on as a press conference is delivered in front of the police headquarters in Manhattan, New York on Wednesday, September 14, 2016.
Two NYPD officers look on as a press conference is delivered in front of the police headquarters in New York on Wednesday.

In July, Ramsey Orta, the man who shot the video of Garner’s killing by the police, agreed to a plea deal to serve four years for a mix of weapons and drug charges. Orta has said that he has been the target of a harassment campaign by the NYPD after the notoriety his video earned.

The NYPD did not respond to a request to comment in time for the deadline of this story.

Standing in front of the NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza Wednesday, Carr said that the people who are sworn to uphold the law should be judged and governed by that same law.

“I don’t care whether you wear blue jeans, a blue suit or a blue uniform,” Carr said. “You are supposed to protect and serve, and when you don’t do that, you should pay for the crime that you’ve done.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, criticized what he characterized as the continued preferential treatment of police officers involved in killings of unarmed black men, citing the approximate $40,000 sum of Pantaleo’s extra pay.

“That type of treatment should shock the conscience of every decent New Yorker,” he said. “It is unreasonable. It is unacceptable. It is unconscionable.”

This will tarnish the reputation of departing police commissioner Bill Bratton and must be remedied immediately by incoming commissioner James O’Neill, Jeffries said. O’Neill, who takes over Friday, has already announced an internal investigation into how the NYPD pays overtime to officers facing disciplinary action.

Kirsten John Foy, the northeast regional director of the civil rights organization National Action Network, said this may be the last chance for accountability in Garner’s case. Garner would have turned 46 today.

“We want to make sure they understand that we haven’t forgotten where the buck stops,” Foy said. “This is the case that the Justice Department really has to show improvement on.”

Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham, speaks at a press conference in front of New York Police Department headquarters on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. Along with Gwen Carr (left), mother of Eric Garner, she expressed frustration over the continued protection of officers who have been investigated by the department.
Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham, speaks at a press conference in front of New York Police Department headquarters on Wednesday. Along with Gwen Carr (left), mother of Eric Garner, she expressed frustration over the continued protection of officers who have been investigated by the department.

Malcolm’s son Ramarley Graham was shot in the bathroom of Malcolm’s Bronx home by NYPD officer Richard Haste. More than four years later, Haste has been given desk duty and subsequent overtime pay increases, Malcolm said.

"My son has been dead for 4½ years, and still no answer," she said. "Richard Haste made over $31,000 in pay raise. If that’s not crazy I don’t know what is. I don’t even know what to say, it’s just so frustrat[ing]. It’s like every time you think you’re going forward you just get knocked off your feet again and go right back to where you started from.”

Malcolm then turned her frustration toward New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. She has pleaded with the mayor’s office to release the findings of the departmental review of Haste’s actions. Under state law, records of such investigations must remain confidential, and de Blasio has stood by that law.

"The government isn’t doing nothing, the lawmakers are not doing anything, the court is not doing anything,” said a visibly exasperated Malcolm. “They keep letting these officers go. Why? Why? Why are you protecting these officers?"

After Dark Decade, Documentary Maker Sees Glimmer of Hope for Gun Control

91

NEW YORK — If 20 murdered children in a small-town school could not change the debate, what would?

John Richie
John Richie

This is the question that haunted filmmaker John Richie. Richie was still screening his first movie “Shell Shocked,” a documentary about gun violence and youth in America’s murder capital, New Orleans, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary with a semi-automatic rifle and killed a classroom of first graders.

Richie had spent years immersed in the world of guns in New Orleans, where, as one teenager he interviewed told him, it was easier to get a gun than a textbook.

Now, he watched as the intractable and implacable gun debate took shape and calcified into predictable camps. But he saw one poll number that obsessed him. It was that 91 percent of people had said they agreed with closing what is popularly known as the gun-show loophole. It allows people who are not licensed gun dealers to sell guns without a background check of their customers. Richie was perplexed at how so many Americans could support comprehensive background checks and how little it meant to leaders in Washington who refused to act.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoThat number, that 91 percent, inspired Richie to make a sequel. Today Richie is set to release “91%: A Film About Guns In America,” the sequel to “Shell Shocked.” The film focuses on the majority of Americans who support comprehensive background checks — a factor that Richie says could have prevented thousands of gun violence tragedies around the country in recent years.

Richie, a child of the deep South who lives in New Orleans, said he is an advocate for reining the debate into what he calls the “sensible middle.” After some screenings, he said, he has been impressed by people on the other side of the issue who have said they were moved by the film and felt that it was nonpartisan.

“It’s a baby step, but I’ll take it,” he said.

After spending three years in the trenches of the fight over guns and gun regulation, he says he is finally seeing what even the lifeless corpses of Sandy Hook could not change.

“We can see it in this election,” Richie said. “It’s become such a big part of this presidential election. Hillary [Clinton] has made reforming this loophole a part of her platform. I think it’s just a matter of time before we see movement on something that until today we haven’t seen movement on since 1994. We are putting into office people who support background checks and stronger regulations to get guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

For almost a decade now Richie has gone to sleep and woken up immersed in the world of gun violence. In 2007 he started making his first documentary, “Shell Shocked,” a cinema-verite look at how gun violence affects young people in New Orleans. Nearly a decade later he has finished a second. This accomplishment did not come without a psychic toll.

91-2

“There’s been some dark moments and dark times but it’s given me a deeper appreciation of life. I am looking forward to working on something other than guns, guns, guns and gun politics. I would never, ever say I regretted it though,” he said. “At the same time it can be really inspiring, it can really make you appreciate life and the people who you care about around you. ”

As part of his reporting for the movie, Richie met victims of gun violence who are still dealing with the consequences of the shootings years after the shots were fired. There is Carolyn Tuft, who watched her daughter get gunned down and killed in a mall in Salt Lake City while going shopping for Valentine’s Day cards. There’s Judi Richardson, whose 25-year-old daughter Darien was shot to death by masked intruders who burst into her bedroom in Portland, Maine, while she slept. A young man was killed by the same gun a month after Darien’s murder, police said.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Richie said. “You go to their houses and see the narratives of their lives in pictures — special events, graduations, vacations — and their child is ripped out of there. There’s a certain amount of suffering every day of their lives that easily could have been prevented if there had been stronger gun laws.”

There isn’t a particular person that moved him, but he was left inspired by them all, he said.

“It would be hard to pick just one person who we featured in the film or that we talked to while making the film who wasn’t a constant reminder that this is not about politics,” Richie said. “This isn’t about policy. The end result … is literal life and death. This is the difference between a safe, comfortable society, or one in which you have to live in fear of being shot down randomly. This is what it’s about.”

91-3

He said he was constantly humbled upon meeting people who tried to turn tragedy into reform.

“One of the most inspiring things about the people featured in the film is that they took this awful tragedy and tried to turn into something meaningful,” Richie said. “They’re out there trying to prevent what happened to them from happening to the rest of us.”

There were numerous moments when Richie wondered if he would have the emotional endurance to respond to the horror of sudden, deadly violence the way his subjects in the film did.

“I think there’s a lot of people, you and myself, who deal with this tragedy all the time, and I can only imagine what that loss would feel like and the amount of grief that comes with it — it would be absolutely crippling. I would hope I could muster up enough strength to do what they have done.”

He hopes the movie will jar viewers into an understanding of how there is a universe of tragedy that continues after the mainstream media moves from one high-profile shooting to the next, he said.

“If you are not immediately touched by gun violence or actually shot, then you don’t realize what the long-term effects are on real people’s lives,” Richie said. “We hear these stories in the news and the narrative is always the same: The person was shot and they either lived or they died. For you watching at home that’s the end of the story. We don’t think about what happens afterward.”

A crucial, underreported part of the story, he said, is to understand how far-reaching gun violence is and how long-lasting its damage can be.

“We spend well over a billion dollars a year treating gunshot victims — to treat this wound that never really heals,” Richie said. “There’s tons of scar tissue and fragments of bullets inside people. I’ll tell you one thing, though; these people, despite all they’ve been through, have moved to activism. What would break a lot of people, they try to turn into something good. The people we show in the film use this unbelievably horrific event in their life to prevent it from happening to other people.”

Richie spoke to dozens of people for the film, mixing interviews with experts and real-life stories of victims of gun violence with verite footage of them at National Rifle Association conventions, coping with day-to-day struggles and being activists in Washington, District of Columbia. “91%” focuses on only a handful of stories.

“Some people lost their lives, some people lost the life of a child,” he said. “Some are luckier than others. Some were just shot.”

NY Teens Refuse to Accept Gun Violence

ALBANY, New York — New York has some of the strongest gun laws in the country but that hasn’t stopped gun violence from affecting the lives of many. According to the Crime, Arrest and Firearm Activity report issued by New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, there were 127 gun deaths in 2015. And for each of those deaths countless family and friends were affected.

Kyler Childs, 17, lost her uncle to a bullet at a Queens liquor store two years ago. “My mom got a phone call and I heard her yelling and screaming and crying,” Childs said. That’s when she found out her uncle had been shot.

JJIE New York Metro Bureau logoChilds was one of about 20 Jamaica High School students who boarded a bus to Albany in May to speak to members of the state legislature about strengthening gun laws. Specifically, to urge support for A2217, which imposes additional license conditions and restricts commercial practices. The assembly session has adjourned for the year. The bill will be taken up in the new session.

The students had questions and experiences they hoped to share for a more personal appeal.

At the Capitol in Albany, the students packed into the office of Michael Miller, assemblyman for District 38 in Queens, but he wasn’t available to meet them. Instead, they met with Miller’s intern Imran Hossain, who fielded questions about the current gun violence situation and the importance of voting.

When asked by a student if he had ever dealt with gun violence directly, outside legislative proceedings, he said he had been a witness to gun violence while growing up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and promised to relay the class’ message to Miller.

Assemblyman Miller was unavailable to comment about his absence, but his office said “his stance on gun violence speaks for itself.” The assemblyman has been a consistent supporter of gun control legislation.

[Related: Wounded Teen Activist Returns to City Where He Was Shot]

Tiyana Sherman, 15, was among the students at the meeting. “It could have been a lot better if we had talked to the congressman,” she said. “The topic was important but not important enough to talk to us.”

Sherman has been dealing with the reality of gun violence since January, when her friend Nicholas committed suicide with a gun he found in his home. “I didn’t know so much was happening for him to have to pull the trigger,” she said.

Like Childs and Sherman, other students on the bus live with the hurtful effects of gun violence. Maximus Sampson, 15, witnessed a shooting outside a deli in Brooklyn that continues to traumatize him. Gabriel Rios, 15, lost an uncle to a bullet after a heated game of dice.

As one of the strictest states in the nation regarding gun control, New York has passed various gun laws. One of the toughest and most thorough measures is the NY SAFE Act, passed in 2013. Its regulations range from high-capacity magazine bans to expanded background checks. The Act was passed in direct response to the Sandy Hook school shooting and was met with criticism that it had been rushed through by the state legislature and restricted civil liberties.

Along with A2217, the students were in Albany to support the latest legislation on the table: A00053A or “Nicholas's Law” named after 12-year-old Nicholas Naumkin, who was shot to death by a friend playing with his father's unlocked gun. The law would require the safe storage of guns to prevent child access.

It died in the state Senate, but is up to its third reading in the state Assembly, where it could be amended and resubmitted to the Senate to go through the committee process again,

(This story originally appeared in Point Blank, a special report produced by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism's NYCity News Service.)

More related articles:

Virginia Needs to Track, Reform School Policing, Report Says

In US, a Youth is Killed by a Gun Every Three Hours

Former CDC Director Says NRA “Terrorized” Gun Violence Researchers

 

Virginia Needs to Track, Reform School Policing, Report Says

 

cop2

The Virginia school policing system needs an overhaul that emphasizes training, data collection and a clear role for officers in schools, says a new report from the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Without a better system, the state will continue to criminalize students for behaviors that schools should deal with, not law enforcement, the center said.

Virginia leads the country in referrals of students to law enforcement, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.

The state doesn’t track how students enter the pipeline that leads from school to the criminal justice system or track measures such as school-based searches, interrogations, uses of force, arrests or court referrals.

“We’re spending tens of millions of dollars but we have no data, no sense of what’s good or bad,” said Jason Langberg, an attorney at the legal aid center and co-author of the report.

Other problems in the system include a lack of training for school resource officers, burdensome mandatory reporting to law enforcement of acts that include misdemeanors and noncrimes, and a requirement that SROs help enforce school rules, not just laws, the report said.

Since the release of the CPI analysis, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has sought recommendations on how to improve school policing and initiated a “Classrooms not Courtrooms” initiative focused on curbing suspensions and expulsions, law enforcement referrals, and race- and disability-based disparities.

Langberg said he’s optimistic the state momentum, combined with greater national attention to the problems of school policing, will continue across political lines during the legislative session, which begins Wednesday.

The report includes recommendations for lawmakers, such as clarifying SROs’ responsibilities at schools, implementing training programs and ending the mandatory participation of prosecutors in truancy cases.

The report also includes recommendations for the state Department of Education on data collection and the development of a comprehensive memorandum of understanding for school-based officers.

“I think this has a lot of potential given how common sense some of these reforms are,” Langberg said.

Wounded Teen Activist Returns to City Where He Was Shot

Semaj Clark is a determined young man.

The Los Angeles teenager’s steadfastness helped him emerge from a childhood punctuated by a string of foster homes and arrests to become an ambassador to troubled youth.

Now he’s determined to learn how to get around in his new wheelchair.

hub_arrow_2-01And he’s determined that his anti-violence campaign can take root anew in Savannah, Georgia, where he’d taken that message of hope and transformation in October — only to find himself with a bullet in his spine. The outpouring of support he received after being shot and paralyzed during a robbery attempt made him want to come back, he said.

“I never experienced as much love in my life until I came to Georgia,” Clark said after a recent round of physical therapy. “I have no hard feelings against Georgia. Thanks for the love.”

Savannah police say the 18-year-old was shot on Oct. 10, after speaking to a community safety forum held by the Chatham County Juvenile Court. He was there with a group of teens from the California-based Brotherhood Crusade, which he credits with showing him a life beyond running the streets of south-central Los Angeles.

 

Semaj Clark
Semaj Clark

“They were the ones that probably connected with the group more than the others, because they were telling personal testimonies,” said Chatham County Juvenile Court Administrator Adam Kennedy. “The others were adults that were implementing programs with young people. But when you actually hear the voice of the young people, I think there’s a stronger connection — and all of those young men did connect and impacted the people that were there.”

Clark was 13 when he was arrested the first time, for burglary. He had been in foster homes since he was 6, when his infant brother was born with drugs in his system and authorities removed him from his mother’s home.

“I cried every day,” he said. “Six-year-olds know what’s going on. They’re not dumb.”

His first foster home was fine, but he had to move while the home was being renovated to accommodate extra children. The second home was awful.

“That’s where I got beaten,” Clark recounted. “The lady was drugging us, putting stuff in our applesauce to make us calm down and stay in one spot, and stuff like that.”

After two years, he was adopted by his original foster mother, Cynthia Clark, who also adopted Semaj’s brother. But by the time he was 13, he was hanging around older kids who led him into trouble. In the next two years, he would be arrested several more times for what he called “little small stuff, like stolen property.”

IMG_1404

“I probably spent, like, a year and a half, two years altogether in juvenile hall,” he said. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade. But then he was introduced to the Brotherhood Crusade’s BLOOM program — Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men — and its Reintegration Academy, which teaches its kids to see beyond their own difficult circumstances and raise their sights.

“If you say you want to be a lawyer, they’re going to put you around Attorney General Eric Holder,” he said. “You want to be a rapper, they’re going to take you to a concert with Kanye West and Jay-Z ... Whatever you want to do, they put you around that stuff, and it gives you a bigger picture.”

Once removed from the “chaos” of his neighborhood, he said, he could breathe — “And once you can breathe, you can think. Once you can think, you can excel.”

He became one of the Brotherhood Foundation’s youth ambassadors, speaking to other teens, to elected officials and policy wonks. In August, he was among a group of teens who met with President Barack Obama during a presidential visit to Los Angeles.

By then, he had earned his high school equivalency diploma and was enrolled in political science classes at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. He was under the tutelage of Professor Renford Reese, who said he looks at Clark “like he’s my son.” It was Reese who took Clark and several other BLOOM alumni to Savannah — and who got the call from police when Clark was shot.

IMG_1390

“You almost brace yourself to hear something like that when you’re at home in Los Angeles,” Reese said. “But you don’t get them out of one of the most volatile, dangerous places in the country and then bring them to Savannah and expect them to get shot in Savannah, Georgia. That’s really a cruel irony.”

After the community forum, Clark and one of his friends were walking down River Street, Savannah’s waterfront tourist strip, when some local kids approached them.

“I was just talking to them, telling them positive stuff,” he said. He called it “a natural instinct.” They talked him into coming with them a few blocks down the street, to the Yamacraw Village public housing complex.

“I had an instinct or a feeling that told me to stop, but I just didn’t listen to it,” Clark said. “I love to help kids. I love to help anybody that I see that used to be like me.”

But when they got to Yamacraw Village, beneath the landmark Talmadge Memorial Bridge, one of the kids pulled out a gun. When Clark and his friend tried to run, he opened fire. Clark was hit squarely in the back, the bullet ripping into the vertebrae behind the heart. His doctors told him he won’t walk again.

Clark just completed a month of physical therapy at the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta rehabilitation center for survivors of spinal and brain injuries. He’s got full use of his arms and “is getting to be fairly independent from a mobility standpoint,” said Dr. Gerald Bilsky, his attending physician.

[Related: Head of LA’s New Office of Child Protection Sees Big Challenge With No Specific Authority]

“He can really take care of all his needs,” Bilsky said. “People who have injuries more in their neck often don’t have the ability to raise their hands. His balance is really good. He’s a young, 18-year-old, healthy kid.”

In his first two weeks at the Shepherd Center, Clark focused on the basics: getting dressed, bathing, getting in and out of cars. He had to exercise his arms, trying to build them up to be able to propel himself around.

“He’s a strong kid, but he’s going to be using his arm muscles in place of his legs. It’s easy to wheel down to the Panera Bread Company down the block,” Bilsky said, referring to an eatery downhill from the hospital. “Wheeling back up from Panera Bread Company is a challenge.”

It’s a challenge — but, Clark added, “I take everything as a challenge.” He still holds out hope of walking again, saying doctors “are just flesh and blood. They’re not God.”

“I can do a lot of things by myself. I learned a lot here,” he told JJIE shortly after being discharged. “It’s hard, but you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt ... I’ve got to just deal with it the best way I can.”

Now he’s gone back to Savannah, about four hours south of Atlanta. He’s working on getting enrolled at Savannah State University, where he plans to resume his studies, and transplanting his California-based outreach mission to the youth of Georgia.

“People see something really unique, and I think he realizes even more so now that he can be a voice of change,” said Reese, who is helping him get set up there. “He can be the spokesperson for an anti-violence movement, and his voice can be more powerful, more authentic, more credible even now than before he was shot. I think it takes a certain amount of maturity to understand why this happened and to see the positive consequences of something like this happening.”

A 17-year-old, Daquan Bryant, has been charged with armed robbery and aggravated assault in Clark’s shooting. Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police are still looking for two other people it described as “persons of interest” in the case, but no further arrests have been made, police spokeswoman Eunicia Baker said.

Clark says he has forgiven his attackers and wants to convince others to do the same.

“It’s about second chances and forgiveness,” he said. “You don’t know what that person has gone through. I don’t know what they were thinking or why they did any of that, so how can I judge somebody if I don’t know? I’m not a judgmental person. I’ve been in their shoes before.”

More related articles:

Aging Out, Stepping Up

In US, a Youth is Killed by a Gun Every Three Hours

Former CDC Director Says NRA “Terrorized” Gun Violence Researchers

In US, a Youth is Killed by a Gun Every Three Hours

The Children's Defense Fund has launched a new campaign in favor of new gun laws: http://www.childrensdefense.org/programs-campaigns/protect-children-not-guns/
The Children's Defense Fund has launched a new campaign in favor of new gun laws.

More than 18,000 young people were killed or injured by a gun in 2010, according to a new report released by the Children’s Defense Fund, “Protect Children Not Guns 2013.”

Children’s Defense Fund Founder and President, Marian Wright Edelman, writes in the report’s foreword that the report “provides a roadmap of where we are today and the actions we must take to protect all children and make America safer. All children have a right to live and to dream and to strive for a future that is not destroyed in a second because we cowered before a special interest lobby and refused to protect them.”

According to the report, approximately 2,700 young people, up to 19 years old, lost their lives in 2010 to gun violence, the equivalent of one death every three hours and fifteen minutes, averaging 51 deaths every week.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that gun violence was the second leading cause of death for young people, only automobile accidents claimed the lives of more children and teens. The report’s authors also found that African-American youths were twice as likely to be killed by a gun than killed in a traffic accident.

Despite representing just 15 percent of all children and teens, the report said black youths made up 45 percent of all young people killed by firearms in 2010. Not only are African-American youths 4.7 times more likely to be killed with a firearm than white young people, black children and teens were approximately 17 times more likely to be the victims of a firearm-related homicide than white youths.

Older teens represent an overwhelming majority of firearm-death victims. Researchers said nearly nine out of 10 firearm-related injuries or deaths among young people in 2010 occurred among youths ages 15-19, according to the authors of the report. Black males in their mid- to late-teens were found to be the most at-risk group overall, and individuals in the demographic were 30 times more likely to be the victims of gun-related homicides than white males in the same age range.

In 2010, nearly three times as many young people in the U.S. were wounded by firearms than the number of U.S. soldiers injured in Afghanistan during the same year. Since 1963, the report stated, more than 160,000 young people have been killed by firearms in the United States -- triple the total number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Edelman was highly critical of the National Rifle Association, which she said has “blocked the truth” and prevented the passage and enforcement of gun control legislation.

“We also need policies that support consumer product safety standards for all guns, public funding for gun violence prevention research, and resources and authority for law enforcement agencies to properly enforce gun safety laws,” she concluded. “We can -- and must -- raise our individual and collective voices and demand our political leaders do better right now to protect children, not guns.”

 

Former CDC Director Says NRA “Terrorized” Gun Violence Researchers

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) has published numerous studies analyzing firearms-related deaths and injuries data, but over the last 16 years, the NCIPC hasn’t conducted a single study exploring why such acts of violence take place.

The reason, several former CDC directors say, is because pro-gun lobbyists made the topic of gun violence research forbidden through several measures adopted in the mid 1990s.

In 1996, several legislators co-sponsored an amendment that would cut the CDC’s budget, with a House Appropriations Committee adopting an additional amendment that prohibited CDC funding “to advocate or promote gun control.” Eventually, $2.6 million was removed from the CDC’s budget -- the exact amount that the NCIPC spent on firearms injuries studies a year prior.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has long been critical of the CDC, with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre recently telling the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) that he believed the agency was promoting a political agenda through the NCIPC in 1995.

Other gun proponents agreed. Former Georgian congressman Bob Barr -- a member of the NRA board -- said that firearms violence is “nothing CDC should be involved in.”

“It has nothing to do with health,” he is quoted by the AJC. “I don’t think when the CDC was created there would by any contemplation that they would be studying firearms as a health issue.”

Several ex-CDC directors, however, claim that gun lobbyists have effectively eliminated any possibility of meaningful firearms research studies being conducted today, with former director of NCIPC Mark Rosenberg going as far as to say that “the scientific community has been terrorized by the NRA.

Dr. David Satcher, a CDC director when the budget cuts and amendments were passed, said that the restriction of research serves as a threat to both public health and democracy.

“It is sad when you really think about it,” he is quoted by the AJC. “We are in an environment when children are dying and we are playing political games.”

Today, researchers financed by the CDC are required to contact the agency when planning to publish firearms-related research. The CDC then forwards the information to the NRA “as a courtesy.”

RAND Corp.’s Arthur Kellermann said that now, the number of gun violence studies being published is just a fraction compared to the research released prior to the mid-1990s CDC budget cuts and amendments.

“It is almost impossible today to get federal funding for firearm injury prevention research,” he is quoted by the AJC. “I have to acknowledge that the (NRA) strategy of shutting down the pipeline of science was effective.”

Photo courtesy of Mike Saechang via Flickr.