Have we surrendered to gun violence? Babies being shot suggests we have. | Helen Ubiñas
If ever there were a place that a child — a baby — should be safe, it’s in the arms of her parent inside her home.
She was supposed to be a baby shark for Halloween.
As if the killing and maiming of babies isn’t horrifying enough, there were the excruciating details.
Nikolette Rivera, the 2-year-old who was shot and killed this weekend, had been in her mother’s arms when someone fired a rifle six times into her home on North Water Street in Kensington.
Her mother’s arms.
If ever there was a place that a child — a baby — should be safe, it’s in the arms of her parent inside her home, but Nikolette was shot in the head and pronounced dead at the scene. Her 24-year-old mother and a 33-year-old man hired to clean the carpets were also shot.
And then came the sickening detail about the fate likely awaiting the 11-month-old boy, Yazeem Jenkins, another baby, shot four times — once in the head and once in the neck — less than 24 hours earlier in Hunting Park in his stepmother’s car. He was fighting for his life, but even if he made it, police said, he’d likely be a quadriplegic.
Hours later, when I was at a meeting of paralyzed gunshot survivors, I still couldn’t shake that image. When I shared it with the group — including one man who was just 8 when he was shot in the back by an angry neighbor with a sawed-off shotgun — the men who know better than most the lifelong struggle of surviving a gunshot wound, shook their heads.
This was a baby. A baby.
Not surprisingly, a Monday morning news conference was lined with representatives from every office — City Hall, the Police Department, the DA’s Office, the Office of Violence Prevention.
At times, the mayor looked as if he was going to be sick — and he would hardly be alone.
“You feel like you’re making progress in the city, and then this weekend happens,” Jim Kenney said. “You feel like you’re just losing ground.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into Police Headquarters.
I knew what I wanted, and what these babies deserved — to have at least one public official who walked into that room to be visibly reeling with rage at the state of our city, to slam a fist on the lectern and cry out, “No More!” and really mean it, and then get to work to make that happen.
I wanted someone to call what an average of nearly two mass shootings every month for the last 11 years should be called: a state of emergency. With 353 murders in 2018, Philly had the highest homicide rate per capita of the 10 largest cities in the country. It’s on target to match or pass that number this year — with 280 murders so far.
I wanted to walk out of the Roundhouse and see that residents were taking to the streets to demand an end to this madness, to say there was no need for a $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for killing Nikolette, because in this city, we don’t let murderers get away with killing our children.
Instead, there was the usual talk of everyone needing to work together, and a few police and community programs they had faith would help, eventually. Of guns being too accessible and the need for commonsense gun laws. I was reminded of a conversation I had with a young woman whose twin sister was shot and killed last year while they were driving together in a car.
She was, frankly, shocked that people were so shocked that women were the victims.
“People are shooting up schools and churches ... so why are we surprised that women are being shot in Philly?”
But that was last week, when the murder of women had us thinking the senseless violence couldn’t get any worse. Before bullets started tearing into the bodies of those too young to even know what a gun is.
At the news conference, officials pledged, as they’ve pledged before, that investigators wouldn’t rest until the perpetrators were found and justice was served.
But mostly, there was sadness and sorrow and despair thick in the air. And while those are certainly honest emotions after such tragedies, it also felt a little like surrender.