NORTHAMPTON — No community easily suffers the death of children. Accidents, violent crimes and illness: the cause is immaterial.
No death of a child is for a reason. All such deaths are senseless.
In his emotional address
shortly after news came of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., President
Obama pointed to the frequency of such mass crimes and nudged the
country to widen our field of vision: “Whether it is an elementary
school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in
Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago —
these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our
The contrary nudge came in his last destination, the “street corner in Chicago.”
When a singular mass
killing occurs in mainly affluent suburbs, it shocks the nation — and
rightly so. But it might be a shock to some to know that this year alone
117 children died from handgun violence in Chicago. These deaths do not
get discussed, let alone memorialized in the national conversation of
There are at least two
reasons for this. First, these deaths do not happen in a spectacular
fashion. They take place in ones and twos, often in the lonely hours of
the night when bullets depart from their targets and settle in the soft
tissue of children asleep in their homes, or in the afternoon as they
play on the sidewalk.
Take the case of April
12. One-year-old Jayliah Allen was shot while she slept in her bed, the
bullet entering the window. Seven-year-old Derrick Robeteau was shot in
the leg while playing outside his grandfather’s home and a 7-year-old
girl was shot as she stood outside her home. Three children hit by
handguns in one day, but in an unspectacular form.
Second, old racist
habits linger. These are African-American and Latino kids, whose
neighborhoods are considered dangerous. Which is why when Jayliah and
Derrick were killed no one called their neighborhoods bucolic or thought
that this violence was senseless. There is a hardness that has entered
our consciousness, allowing us to avoid the sealed fates of these kids.
No memorials exist as
well for the 178 children killed by U.S. drone strikes in the
borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Noor Aziz, 8, Talha, 8,
Najibullah, 13, Adnan, 16, Hizbullah, 10, Wilayat Khan, 11, Asadullah,
9, Sohail, 7: these are some of the names of children killed by the
drones. News reports frequently say “three militants killed,” and then a
few days later, in the Pakistani press, one hears that amongst the dead
were children with no association with the militants. Unlike the street
shootings in Chicago, there have been mass killings by drones, which
have received only minimal attention. On Oct. 30, 2006, a U.S. drone
struck a school in Bajaur, Pakistan, killing 83 people. The New York
Times story ran Nov. 10 with the headline, “American Strike in January
Missed Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 By a Few Hours.”
The Times noted in the
story that the drone hit “a madrasa, or religious school,” but left it
at that. It did not mention that only three of those killed were older
than 20. The rest were between the ages of 7 and 17.
There was no apology for
this strike, authorized by the White House, no call to put an end to
this kind of tragedy. One of the more unseemly coincidences of the
Newtown massacre is that just down the road from the elementary school
is Forecast International, a military intelligence firm that has been
bullish on drones.
On Oct. 23, Time’s Joe
Klein was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Host Joe Scarborough spoke
passionately against the use of drones, saying “it seems so antiseptic
and yet you have 4-year-old girls being blown to bits because we have a
policy that now says, ‘You know what? Instead of trying to go in and
take the risk and get the terrorists out of hiding in a Karachi suburb,
we’re just going to blow up everyone around them.’ ”
Klein, a defender of the
Obama record, answered emotionlessly, “The bottom line in the end is —
whose 4-year-old gets killed? What we’re doing is limiting the
possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts
Such a callous
calculation is not Klein’s alone; it is reflected in the general lack of
concern for what is being carried out in our name.
No human beings can tolerate to see their children killed. No human beings, not anywhere.
Vijay Prashad, who lives in Northampton, is the author of “Arab Spring, Libyan Winter” (AK Press).