by Gary Younge
published by Guardian Faber
‘Every day, on average, 7 children and teens are killed by guns.’ After car accidents it’s the second leading cause of death for all children in America.
Award-winning British journalist, Gary Younge spent 18 months meticulously researching, googling, reading transcripts of 911 emergency calls, and interviewing friends and families of each of the ten children who were shot and killed in one twenty four hour period, on a random day in November 2013. His investigation makes for a devastating unpicking of the American dream.
In a deeply divided country such deaths are so common they go unnoticed and largely unrecognised; they might merit a paragraph in the local paper or a log in a police file. In Another Day in the Death of America Younge devotes a chapter to examining the circumstances of each short life, and elevates each death to a tragedy with repercussions for the whole family and community. Months later, Jaiden’s mother, Nicole is haunted by her son’s death: ‘I keep replaying seeing him falling to the ground’. She has nightmares and suffers from insomnia. Every day families are torn apart and have to live with the fallout.
Younge raises the question of guilt: is there a difference between young Jaiden who is shot by his mother’s ex-boyfriend when he opens the front door, and a teenage gang member shot in the street while walking with his friends? The understanding is that one is more ‘innocent’ than the other; but they are still only children, largely forgotten by all but their immediate family. And they have both been murdered.
In a country where the Second Amendment specifically allows the carrying of guns for self-defence, little attention is paid to these daily, mind-numbing deaths. The National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbies for the continuing freedom to carry firearms. Younge attended their annual convention in Indianapolis ‘Nine acres of guns and gear’ where one of the most popular seminars is the ‘Home Defense Concepts’. As Younge puts it you are encouraged to ‘live your life in fear of threat and violation. Be stimulated by the possibility that someone, somewhere, might be poised to invade and attack.’ And the perceived threat is not only to the individual, but to ‘American civilisation itself…The gun-rights narrative must continually reaffirm the frontier spirit… the world as a dangerous, insecure place.’ Exactly the unquestioning mind-set that is tapped into at Donald Trump rallies.
When families are questioned about why these tragedies keep happening ‘firearms never came up.’ They’re seen like car accidents: ‘the unfortunate, if heavy, price one pays for living in twenty-first-century America.’ Parenting was often blamed, as was poverty. Compared to the UK, America is significantly more class ridden: ‘Poor kids who work hard and go to college still fare worse than rich kids who did badly at school.’ And ‘America is racist. Not all Americans… but its judiciary, economy and social fabric.’ It’s only ‘fifty years since it ascended from an essentially apartheid state…Schools in the South are more segregated now than they have been for forty years.’
In his Afterword Younge describes the beginning of the next 24 hours: 16 year old Darnell Jones dies, shot in the neck ‘the first of yet another slew of slain children whose stories will not be told and whose passing will provoke no outrage.’
‘Researching and writing this book has made me want to scream…A long, doleful, piercing cry for a wealthy country that could and should do better for its youth and children… but has settled legislatively at least, on a pain threshold that is morally unacceptable.’
By its nature this is not an easy subject to read, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is an excellent piece of journalism: clear-sighted, meticulously and sensitively investigated, and devastating in its conclusions.