Last night’s shooting at the Batman movie premiere was certainly a tragedy, and my heart and prayers go out to all of the families, community members, and others affected by it. As the current count stands, 12 people lost their lives in one of the most unthinkable manners last night. As I made the commute to work this morning, the radio was full of messages of consolation and hope, and truly, the outpouring of charity and empathy from nation-wide onlookers has been heartening.
Since the radio was the first mention I had heard of this story, as soon as I had access to a computer, I went to the Chicago Tribune website in the hope of learning more details. Sure enough, the main headline of the day was on the shooting. But then, just as I was about to click on the story, another, much smaller headline caught my eye: “Two sixteen-year-olds dead, 4 wounded in South Side Shootings.”
And there it was, two more kids, two more of my community’s kids gone overnight. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that it feels like every single morning that I check the Tribune only to find more shootings, more deaths, and tragically, it’s almost always kids or young adults.
And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of my heart breaking for the friends and families who lost a loved one. I’m sick of frantically trying to research to see if the victim was a family member of one of the kids with whom I work. I’m sick of being tempted by the media to think of these losses, these lives simply as another number adding to the staggering statistics. And if I – privileged, employed, white, insured, educated, well-fed, mobile I – feel these losses so acutely, I cannot imagine what it must be like for the mothers, grandmothers, younger brothers and sisters, fathers, cousins, friends, teachers who know the faces and the stories behind the numbers.
Over a March weekend not too long ago, a deadly weekend left 10 killed and 40 wounded. Again, I know the circumstances are extremely different, but compare that last night’s numbers. Aside from a few newspaper articles, this was considered just another weekend. Another sobering statistic to throw out there – since September 2008, over 300 children (18 and under) and over 600 youth (under 26) in Chicago alone. I believe with my whole heart that this is a scandal.
In the words of the wonderful Urban Dolorosa ministry,
This devastating loss is unacceptable. Almost all of these children are African-American or Hispanic. They are from our poorest neighborhoods. They live and die in fear, and yet because they are poor, because they have no voice, they are easily forgotten. This is inexcusable.
I want to be very clear here; I absolutely think that the Denver story is worthy of the media attention and general public outcry, and what I say next is not intended to call into question if the victim’s stories should be told on a national platform. Of course they should, every human life is precious, endowed with unfathomable dignities, and it is right that we publicly honor that dignity when possible. And I also understand that a mass shooting is very different from the recent Chicago shooting to which I am referring. But still, I have to ask, where is the public outcry for these children?
Urban Dolorosa, the ministry I quoted above, is dedicated to the radical mission of reclaiming urban childhood. In November of 2011, they called for a city-wide pilgrimage in honor of children killed by violence. The tagline was, “Five Churches in Five Neighborhoods; One Sorrowing City.” I was privileged enough to attend one of the nightly vigils, and I found it to be one of the most heartbreaking and eye-opening events of my life.
One of the most powerful pieces of the night, at least for me personally, was a reinterpreted Stabat Mater, in which the congregation intimately called upon the intercession and pity of Rachel and Mary. The lines still haunt me with their beauty and vulnerability.
Oh Madonnas, Memorare!
Mary too, once lost a Son.
It’s impossible to explain how absolutely humbling it was to stand shoulder to shoulder with mothers who had buried their children within the past year as those lines were sung.
And now, with the tragic violence of last night, new sorrowful mothers have been created, new disconsolate voices to add their cries and prayers to the mourning of Mary and Rachel. And so this haunting hymn now too rightfully belongs to them.
A voice is heard lamenting, weeping:
Bitter, angry, unrelenting.
Rachel – yet a thousand Rachels –
Weeping for their children,
Refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.
As I’ve already stated, my deepest prayers go out to those who lost loved ones last night; in the Denver-area, and in my own backyard. I praise everyone for taking last night’s tragedy so personally, for seeking out the stories of lives cut short and for striving to comfort the suffering. I also challenge everyone to open their eyes and their hearts to the other stories of violence and loss – to pray with just as much fervor for those whose names and faces we know and for those who only appear in our morning paper under the vaguest of terms. Every life is precious; every life has value; every life deserves to remembered, mourned.
I would like to close with the words of another hymn used in the peace and prayer vigils of Urban Dolorosa, this one like a mantra, sung over and over again. Here, I offer it as equal parts consolation and summons.
Pour out your heart like water
For the lives of your children.
Let justice roll down like waters
Righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.