OPED: Feeling helpless, hopeless after police shooting
Cameron Sterling stood next to his mother in Baton Rouge, La., as she spoke of how police had killed his father. The new man of the house, 15 years old, tried to stand strong, but he did what any child would do.
He buried his face in his shirt, and then in someone's chest, and he sobbed: "I want my Daddy."
I had returned from vacation ready to write a column about 16-year-old Asir Brown, gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Philadelphia on July Fourth weekend.
But then I turned to one of the televisions in the newsroom and watched the emotional news conference outside Baton Rouge city hall, and there he was:
A young man broken in ways that he's only just beginning to realize.
A young man forced to grow up too soon.
A grieving boy whose sobs, televised nationally, still have my insides twisted in a knot.
I'd been there: In January, I watched an 8-year-old boy in South Philly try as hard as he could to keep from crying for a father who was shot and killed when he was just a baby. He still dreamed about the man he barely knew.
When that child started to cry, I stopped listening to the adults around him talking about gun violence.
When Cameron Sterling started to cry, I stopped listening to the adults around him talking about the police-involved shooting —including those calling for the resignations of the mayor and the police chief — because who are we kidding?
Because what else was there to say?
Those tears said it all.
Now, of course, everything about Cameron's father's life and actions will be dissected. Alton Sterling was a 37-year-old black man and father of five who sold CDs. Cameron is his oldest. The father was shot and killed by a Baton Rouge police officer Tuesday morning outside a convenience store after an altercation with two officers. Police and a 911 caller said he had a gun. But even if he did, I don't see how he was a threat with two cops sitting on top of him.
And while that will be debated to death, all I keep thinking about is a line from the speech that actor Jesse Williams delivered the other day while accepting BET's Humanitarian Award:
"We know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day."
What I don't get with Sterling and so many other cases like this one is how someone selling loosies or CDs or being pulled over for a routine traffic stop ends up dead. Write him a ticket. Tell him to move along. But I suppose that suggests a relationship of trust, and I'm not sure the necessary relationships between police officers and the black and Latino citizens they are charged to protect and serve exist in this country. At the rate things are going, I'm not sure they ever will.
So now what?
I'm asking because I don't know anymore.
When it comes to guns and gun violence at the hands of civilians or cops, we aren't getting anywhere. According to the Washington Post, cops have fatally shot 505 people in the U.S. this year; 122 of them were black.
Maybe that's why I tossed and turned all night wondering what I should, or could, say about Asir Brown.
Mostly my thoughts kept coming back to this: Let's call gun violence what it is, an epidemic, an infectious disease afflicting cities all over this country. Chicago ended the weekend with four dead and at least 60 others shot, including three children. Here in Philly, we are at 588 shooting victims as of July 5, up from 522 this time last year. We've had 132 homicides so far, up 7 percent from 2015.
Meanwhile America's decision-makers are either incapable or disinterested in tackling this epidemic, because it is their hugely misguided duty to preserve the patriotic right of each American to own a gun, whether it is a pistol used on a city corner or what is now politely being described as "a long gun," a semi-automatic rifle meant for SWAT teams and soldiers in battle, that can kill multitudes of innocents in nightclubs, movie theaters or elementary schools.
Accompanying the heartbreaking story of Asir Brown was a photo of a friend, another young man in tears.
So, when will we do something other than helplessly watch children cry?
— Helen Ubinas is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email her at email@example.com.