First and last breath – May holiday murders bring renewal

This week the western world prepares to celebrate the birth of a child born into poverty from an underage teenage mother who was traveling with an older man. After he grew to adulthood, this baby was crucified because he dared preach of a peaceful world.

The recent plight of America’s holiday murders finally opens public discussion about firearm access. America must face ugly realities already familiar to inner cities because an armed madman opened fire on innocent children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. America is shocked that this happened in the mostly caucasian middle class town of Newtown Connecticut. Only the week before there was a shooting at a shopping mall in a Portland suburb, and today another in small town Pennsylvania.

Sadly, American inner cities are accustomed to the slow slaughter of their youth. This video, less than 8 minutes long, addresses the increasing homicides in Oakland California and grass roots efforts toward solutions. Increasingly, children are collateral damage to the casual violence.

These inner city deaths occur with such frequency, either singularly or with only a few victims at a time to poor people with brown skin, that the press does not celebrate them. Murderers usually escape without investigation. Their annual death toll come to many times that of last week’s innocent deaths in Newtown Connecticut.

As of late November 2012, Oakland’s homicide count alone was already at 115 (link here).

The problem is greater than “gun control”. It’s a multifactorial issue of poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of direction, lack of educational resources, deeply embedded anger in a growing segment of our population, and more.

A nurse co-worker of mine recently posted this photo on facebook:

Oakland photo by Jennifer Carraher, November 2009, printed with permission

Oakland photo by Jennifer Carraher, November 2009, printed with permission

My work gives me the privilege of welcoming new babies in the economically and racially diverse Bay Area. Every week families discuss memories of a recently murdered loved one who will never meet the new baby to be born into my hands. The absent family member who was murdered within the last year is usually a husband, brother, father, cousin, nephew, uncle or son.

Bystanders are also shot but not necessarily killed. One laboring woman incessantly scratched at a tangled scar which had grown over shrapnel embedded in her arm. Several years before she did her best to dig shrapnel out of her arm herself, after she tired of the 10 hour wait to be seen in Highland Hospital’s emergency room. She had been splayed in crossfire because in her words “I was walking down the wrong street at the wrong time.”

Too many of my patients say, “It’s not safe to walk in my neighborhood” when I suggest they take a daily walk as part of an exercise regimen to help their diabetes or blood pressure.

Our nation is complicit in senseless shootings through collective acceptance of easy access to firearms and inadequate educational and work opportunities for the poor. Social inequities, lack of opportunity, mental illness, and poverty have historically been a recipe for small and large revolts. Small constant revolts have been occurring in America’s inner cities for years. The media pays attention now that this violence spills over to white communities.

During this season of rebirth, may we remember the only guarantee when a baby takes his or her first breath — there will be a last breath. Society can minimize the chances of a premature last breath caused by preventable violence.

Hopefully the mourning community of Newtown Connecticut inspires national discussion and some active solutions. For all our sakes.

Maybe therein lies today’s celebrated end of the Mayan calendar – the end of the world as we know it.

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