In America, “Every day, on average, seven children and teens are killed by guns; in 2013 it was 6.75 to be precise,” writes Afro-British journalist Gary Younge in the introduction to his upcoming fifth book, Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives. “Gun violence is the leading cause of death among black children under the age of 19 and the second-leading cause of death for all children of the same age group, after car accidents.”
Although not from America, Younge is careful to note that he spent 12 years living in the United States—from 2003 to 2015. Most importantly, Younge became a parent in the U.S. and, as such, struggled with trying to understand America’s gun culture—and its effect on the lives of children. “American teens are 17 times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in other high-income countries,” he writes. And things are, of course, much, much worse for black children like Younge’s.
Younge’s aim is to put “a human face—a child’s face—on the ‘collateral damage’ of gun violence in America.” So he picked one single day and researched all the children who had been shot—and killed—by gun violence.
The 10 victims fall across a diverse cross section of race, age and geography. The youngest is 9. The oldest is 19. While “those shot on any given day in different places and very different circumstances lack the critical mass and tragic drama to draw the attention of the nation’s media in the way a mass shooting in a cinema or a church might,” Younge seeks simply to honor these innocent victims of the daily, constant onslaught of gun violence in America.
Younge begins with the heartbreaking story of 9-year-old Jaiden Dixon, shot by his mother’s ex-boyfriend Danny Thornton in Grove City, Ohio. Thornton, with a history of domestic violence, assault and drug possession, was angry with Jaiden’s mother for no longer letting him stay at her home rent-free. One day Thornton showed up at the house; when Jaiden opened the door, Thornton shot him in the head.
The transcript of Jaiden’s slightly older teenage brother pleading on the phone with emergency services to help his little brother is chilling. Jaiden’s death broke his family and devastated his Grove City community, one of the areas with the lowest crime in the state. Months afterward, Jaiden’s basketball team at the YMCA was still mourning him, putting up small hearts with his name inside as mementos of their friend. Equally chilling is the story of 11-year-old Tyler Dunn from Marlette, Mich., shot by a 12-year-old friend who claimed that he didn’t know the gun he had found in the house was loaded.
Then there is the death of 19-year-old Kenneth Mills-Tucker in Indianapolis. And the death of 17-year-old Stanley Taylor, shot at a gas station in Charlotte, N.C. There is the death of 18-year-old Pedro Dado Cortez in San Jose, Calif., who, although not a gang member, was shot by members of a local gang. There is 16-year-old Edwin Rajo, shot in Houston, and 16-year-old Samuel Brightmon, shot in Dallas. There is 18-year-old Tyshon Anderson, shot in Chicago, and 18-year-old Gary Anderson, shot in Newark, N.J. There is 18-year-old Gustin Hinnant, shot in Goldsboro, N.C. Each of them dead within 24 hours. Ten young lives in 24 hours. Let that sink in.
Over and over, Younge, through meticulous research, gathers 911 phone calls, interviews with the victim’s family and friends and social workers, and any other evidence he can find. His exceptional journalistic ability shines in the depth of his research, his sensitivity toward his subject matter and the high quality of his analysis. He accounts for the effect of poverty and lack of social services in perpetuating violence and is leery of the blame heaped on parents when their children are shot.
Writes Younge: “Criticisms of parenting in these contexts must first acknowledge what it takes to be an effective parent in an area where schools are bad, gangs are rife, drugs and guns are easily available, resources are scare, and policing is harsh.”
Another Day in the Death of America differs from recent offerings by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mychal Denzel Smith and Claudia Rankine—all brilliant in their own right—in that Younge focuses on all victims of all forms of gun violence rather than only on black victims of police brutality and racial violence.
“Of the 10 children covered in this book, seven were black, two were Hispanic, and one was white,” he writes. “All were working-class and male.” Although Younge is clear to note that black children are the most frequent victims of gun violence because of these types of racial violence and institutional racism, Younge’s project is the proliferation of gun violence against all children in America—and a disturbed, often outraged puzzlement as to why nothing is being done to address this crisis.
Here is a powerful and necessary accounting of one of the deadliest epidemics ever to sweep across America—and a call to action to do something about gun violence. Younge’s writing is chilling, urgent and profound; his reportage deeply personalizes the victims, making them come alive through the memories of those who knew them during their short lives. For Younge, a parent himself, this is very real.
“I want to bay towards the heavens, because while kids like those featured in this book keep dying, the political class refuses to do not only everything in its power but anything at all to minimize the risks for the kids who will be shot dead today or tomorrow,” he writes.
So Younge does what he can. In vivid, haunting language, he creates portraits of these 10 children who are no longer with us. But the heartbreak is not just in the death of these 10. The heartbreak is that, if nothing is done to control gun violence, there will be at least seven more children shot and killed tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.
How long, Younge asks us, will we let this go on?
Hope Wabuke is a Southern California-based writer and a contributing editor at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.