Since January, more than 8000 people have been killed while more than 15,000 have been wounded during 32,000 shootings in the United States. If this trend continues, by the end of the year the total amount of deaths will surpass 10,000 – equal to the number who perished during the Yemen war.
But the UN is unlikely to step in. We are talking about the US, and this is not an effect of the collapse of law and order, but of its upholding. It is an effect of the constitution that grants the right to bear arms.
There are 89 guns per every 100 Americans. In Chicago there are more casualties each year then there are US marine casualties in Afghanistan. Chicago residents are so used to the sound of bullets that the dogs don’t even bark anymore. From the Facebook pagesit doesn’t look like the US. It looks like Mexico City, like Salvador. Dollars and rifles. As in the pictures of Tyshon Anderson –18 years old.
«His mother could relax only when he was in jail because only in jail was he safe.»
Today we read about Anderson’s death, but yesterday we might have been reading about the death of one of his victims. He made his living on burglary, on drug dealing, like so many others. He had already been shot twice before. His mother could relax only when he was in jail because only in jail was he safe. And yet he is remembered by his friends as if he were killed in combat, with honour. As if he died on the job, performing his duty.
No motive. No investigation.
The American Guardian correspondent Gary Younge decides to settle in Chicago. And one day he finds himself in a meeting at his son’s– a meeting about orientation and how to teach children not to get lost while walking alone. What also comes up is how not to panic in the presence of gunfire. His book is a grim portrait of today’s America that leaves you speechless. It is the portrait of a random day, November 23, 2013, and of ten people that died that day. All of them are underage. On average 96 underage people are killed in America every day. It happens so often that for every new casualty there is only a short article in the local newspapers, as with the few lines in the Dallas Morning News reporting the murder of Samuel Brightmon – only 16 years old – hit by a bullet while hanging out with a friend. No one has ever been charged. No suspects. No motive. No investigation.
.«A minute you play with your Xbox. A minute later you are gone,» a friend says.
It’s all so normal that the psychologist who looks after Brightmon’s classmates – who should help them overcome trauma – gets his name wrong.
«The US is a country where many – too many – families live on the brink.»
Families are left alone, not only after the tragedy has taken place, but above all before – the portrait of the living is possibly even more upsetting than the portrait of the dead. It is the portrait of a country where the fathers don’t remember how many kids they have, as with the father of Gustin Hinnant, 18 years old. Or where someone is buried after two weeks, because there’s no money for their funeral, as with the funeral of the 18-year-old Pedro Cortez.
An unsparing account
The US is a country where a murder spree is triggered by an argument over phone bills, as with Jaiden Dixon, only 9 years old, killed by the father of one of his siblings who had a gun despite having a long criminal record. It is a country where many – too many – families live on the brink, with no safety net. No welfare. And in the event of a car accident, with a broken knee that keeps you away from work for six weeks, as happened to Samuel Brightmon’s mother, you are thrown out of your home and forced to change neighbourhoods. To change your life. Ending up in a place where you get shot for no reason.
But when we speak about Chicago, we actually aren’t speaking about all of Chicago. We are speaking basically of its South Side and West Side. And someone like Gary Younge is being informed about violence from the media, as if it were in a different city, in a different world. A world where being Black or Latino means you can be stopped on the street without any pretext. Sentenced without any proof. As a policeman says: it’s a matter of numbers. «You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.»
This book is an unsparing account of today’s America. Of the America that brands herself as a land of equal opportunity, and where, instead, it is still the colour of your skin – often the place you come from – that determines your fate. This America that is so close to us Europeans, so familiar, and yet, reading Younge‘s astonishing accounts, America suddenly comes off as a stranger.