Too Many Tombstones

vigil cirle

Each luminario bears the name of a murdered child

This past week has been a week of commemorations for all kinds of violent tragedies that have befallen communities large, as in Boston, and small, as in Columbine.  Here too, in one St. Louis neighborhood, there was a commemoration of past loss, a march for peace, justice and an end to gun violence.

Our small action and commemoration began as the dream of one retired middle school teacher from the neighborhood.  In his time at the school, from 1979 to 2008 when he retired and since, he alone has lost 49 of his former students to gun violence in this small Midwestern city.  Nearly 50 children to guns alone.  This does not take into account all the ones lost to drugs, drunk drivers, accidents and the plethora of other ills that can befall an inner city child while they are trying to attain adulthood.  If you also add in the children who’ve been paralyzed, lost a parent or sibling or are otherwise impacted by gun violence, and we do, the number climbs far above 150.

Just this past week, we lost another.  His funeral was on the same day as the Peace March.  Because of a shooting incident at the wake the night before, we were actually to be given a police escort this year.  As a legal observer, part of my job is to check the route and area around a rally or action for police presence.  There were 3 unmarked cars in our immediate area at the start of the march.  But, our patrol car escort was very late.  When one finally showed up, it was to tell us to stay in place until he could come back.  The funeral attached to the wake the night before had attracted a shooter.  So we waited for 2 hours to start the march.  As we approached the funeral home, we were met by 8 more police cars that flanked us until we were past.  Then, a block down, they left.  We still had about a half mile to go, but we’re in or from that neighborhood, so it was quite ok with us.

We had speakers of all types, old and new teachers and kids from the school were there.  There was plenty of food and time to talk to people and catch up.  In other words, it was a nice day in our little garden.  Though our little garden bears a secret of its’ own.

The Northside Community Garden is not a fully funded, non-profit type garden.  No one even owns the land.  It began as an overgrown vacant lot that used to be the “free fire zone” on that block.  You see, that crossroads is where 6 gangs turf meet.  They all had to truce out in order for the first seed to go into the ground.  And, by their decree, it is not just “safe space”, it is “sacred space”.  It should be.  I found out after we’d helped put the garden in that at least a dozen bodies had been pulled off that corner lot since 1984!

My sons say that that is why the plants didn’t die in the blazing heat and drought of our first summer, 2011, there.  Something grown in the ground in NSTL will not give up.  We’ve not given up the garden, nor the anti-violence campaign despite the best efforts of climate, idiocy and city hall.  We can’t give up, there are children still living in that neighborhood.  We can’t give up until the children stop dying.  There are already too many tombstones on those blighted blocks of our city.

~ In Honor and Memory of The 7 children Lost in Chicago on 4/18/14


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