Numb, spiritually dead nation

Marian Wright Edelman | 6/3/2013, 9:13 a.m.

(NNPA) – Ka’Nard Allen has been shot twice in his 10-year-old life. On May 12, he went with his mother to the annual Mother’s Day second line parade in New Orleans. When two gunmen shot into the line of participants – men, women and children – Ka’Nard’s cheek was struck by a bullet. Eighteen other people were wounded, including a 10-year-old girl. Less than a year ago, at Ka’Nard’s 10th birthday party in his front yard, his 5-year-old cousin, Brianna Allen, was fatally shot by an AK-47, and he was shot in the neck.

Now, with his 11th birthday on Wednesday, Ka’Nard’s mother doesn’t know where to have the party. He wants to go to a hotel, swim in the pool, and stay overnight, he told a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, but his mother said she can’t afford it. She doesn’t know where to let him play that will be safe, and he remains at risk because she can’t afford to move.

I have written this before and I write it again now: The psychological and emotional toll of gun violence on children, whether they are bystanders or victims, can be overwhelming and last for years.

A recent screening of 232 New Orleans middle school students who were part of a teen pregnancy prevention program found that 44 percent had someone close to them murdered, 29 percent had witnessed an assault with a weapon, and 14 percent had witnessed a murder. More than half the children classified concerns about “personal safety” as a source of worry, more than twice the number who worried about “being unloved.”

“At least a third of our kids are experiencing symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which on a simple level means it is hard to attend school and do well,” said Dr. Denese Shervington, a psychiatrist who heads the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies that ran the program and conducted the screening.

John C. Raphael, the pastor of a church in the neighborhood where Ka’Nard lives, told Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Cass on assignment for the Children’s Defense Fund that children who regularly hear gunfire and see dead bodies on the street become acclimatized to violence and learn that violence is the way to solve conflicts. “They’re afraid but they can’t escape so they harden themselves to survive. They become numb to what should be emotionally disturbing and accept it as a norm, as the community does.”

As a nation we seem to be hardened and numb to what should be emotionally disturbing when we cannot legislate the most modest and reasonable measures for national gun safety even after children in as seemingly safe a place as Newtown, Conn., far from an inner city, can be shot down in school. We are numb when the same child can be shot one year at his own birthday party and shot again the next year at a Mother’s Day parade and both shootings are just another day on our cities’ streets. Why are we not all calling our legislators and expressing outrage? How can we let the voices of gun dealers and manufacturers drown out the cries of children?