Thursday, 4 January 2018

Another Day in the Death of America, by Gary Younge: Book Note

Another Day in the Death of America, by Gary Younge: Book Notes

Gary Younge, a black British journalist who lived in Chicago for several years, is the author of Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives (Nation Books, 2016). Each chapter documents the life and death of a young American between 9 and 19 who died by gunfire in the 24-hour overnight period of November 22-23 2013; all are male and most black or Hispanic. This was, incidentally, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, though that doesn’t seem to have affected Younge’s decision to choose that particular date. On an average day, seven American children will be shot dead.
Gary Younge

Three of Younge’s observations particularly struck me.

The first was the perhaps universal tendency to assume that victims of crimes have to be innocent; if not, they somehow deserve their fate. The opening chapter in Another Day recounts the story of Jaiden Dixon. Jaiden was nine when one day he opened the door  to the father of one of his older half-brothers. The father shot him, then sped away to shoot a woman he’d previously been involved with. She survived the shooting, and was terrified that he’d find her again until she was told that the police had killed him.

This was a story of domestic violence, and Jaiden, by all accounts a sweet child, was clearly innocent; his murderer was trying to get revenge on his mother. Several of the other murder victims were older teens, some of whom had been gang members and one of whom, Younge observes, was just as likely to have been the perpetrator as the victim of murder. In the public eye and that of the media, Younge observes, these victims somehow “deserved” their fates in a way that Jaiden did not. But as a black child, had he been a few years older his death might have garnered less sympathy.

Younge’s second observation was the way that everyone accepted the presence of guns in their lives as inevitable and a fact of life.

The only white child to be killed in this one-day period was 11-year-old Tyler Dunn. Tyler was playing with his friend Brandon in Brandon’s house. Brandon’s father, Jerry, was supposed to be supervising them, but he left them alone while he was working. The boys found a gun, assumed it was unloaded and played with it: Brandon killed Tyler. Jerry, a convicted felon, was found guilty of improper safeguarding of his guns, and inadequate supervision of his son. 

Tyler’s family just assumed that nothing could be done about guns. And tragically, this was also the attitude of the black and Hispanic families featured in the book.  Edwin Rajo was accidentally killed by a female friend when they, too, were fooling around with guns without adult supervision.
Nor was this attitude at all unrealistic. Despite repeated surveys showing that the majority of Americans support gun control, the power of the National Rifle Association over candidates for election is so powerful that nothing is ever done, even after the Sandy Hook tragedy, when a mentally-ill young man killed 20 tiny children and their teachers. Then-President Obama tried and failed to institute tighter controls over gun sales at that time.

The black families in this book react to the presence of guns by trying to control their children’s access to “the street”. The best way to protect them against random gunfire or mistaken identity (such as wearing the wrong color hoodie in an area in which gang members identify themselves by the color they wear) is to keep them indoors as much as possible, ferrying them by car from home to school to church and other activities. Younge points out that black parents are just as concerned as white parents about their children’s safely, but they have fewer resources to protect them.

The third observation that really stuck with me is Younge’s description of some of the worst areas of South Chicago and Dallas as “open-air prisons.” 

Housing, schools, public amenities, and private businesses are all run-down or lacking in these areas. So also are employment opportunities; indeed, for many young men, the only available employment is drug-dealing or other forms of crime. Tax-payers in wealthy areas of the same cities seem happy to let their municipal authorities neglect these areas. Murders of blacks by blacks are not a matter of concern, sometimes not even reported in the press, other times meriting only a short paragraph in the local paper. The implication here is that as long as the imprisoned population stays in these areas, they are free to kill each other.

The gun culture in the US is inexplicable to the rest of the Western world. It seems to have something to do with libertarian political culture, as well as particularly wrong-headed interpretations of the US Constitution. As a Canadian, I worry about its spread here, as well as the illegal importing of guns. We too have gun-related crime, and we too have citizens who believe that everyone should have the right to own a gun for self-defense.

But Younge shows us how gun culture, like everything else, is tied to racism, economic inequality, and publicand public neglect of black and Hispanic citizens.   

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