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Child Watch® Column: "Gunshots"

Release Date: September 20, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate…I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots. Let's get rid of this. This is not America.” – Dr. Janis Orlowski, MedStar Hospital, after treating gunshot victims of the Navy Yard massacre

At only 24 years old Timothy Dawkins was already well respected in his hometown of Washington, D.C. as a young leader and youth organizer wise for his years. His colleague Trayon White, a District of Columbia State Board of Education member, described him to a reporter this way: “Tim was just very different. You're talking about a young man who went to seminary school when he was 21. Someone who got married when he was 21. . . He was an old soul; a soldier.”

Every July, clergy, seminarians, religious educators, young adult leaders, and other faith-based advocates for children gather at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee for the annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. It provides five days of spiritual renewal, networking, organizing and movement building training to address the urgent needs of children and examine what faith and community institutions can and must do to meet them. Timothy was there this year as part of CDF’s Young Advocate Leadership Training (YALT®) program, which connects young leaders committed to protecting children, and to social justice from across the country. Our 2013 theme was “Beating Swords Into Plowshares: Ending the Violence of Guns and Child Poverty,” based on a biblical passage from the Hebrew prophet Micah: “[God] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

For Timothy the training to end the violence of guns and child poverty was deeply relevant: he was an activist in one of the District of Columbia’s poorest and most violence-stricken neighborhoods and he had already dedicated his life to answering the call to people of faith to combat violence and make a difference. In his spare time he could be found studying in the neighborhood library emulating role models like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadly, just a few weeks after Timothy attended our training, he was shot and killed walking in his Southeast D.C. neighborhood at 6:30 on a summer evening.

Police quickly suspected the gunfire was meant for someone else and not the unarmed seminary student known in the neighborhood as a peacemaker. But what difference does that make? His friend Trayon White said, “Unfortunately he was a victim of ignorance. . . He was truly an example for our young people, and we need more examples, especially Black men, standing in the gap, because we’re lost out here.” Timothy left behind a wife and a two-year-old son. He also left a neighborhood and community that are richer because of his dedication and presence but also much poorer because of his senseless death. And he left a city and nation that have yet to stand up to the scourge of gun violence that kills or injures a child or teen every half hour and has killed more people in America in our unremitting civil war fueled by guns than all the declared wars against external enemies in our history.

Just this week—extremely personal to all of us at CDF because a beloved colleague was among those in lockdown in the Navy Yard’s tragedy—a man with mental illness wielding a sawed-off shotgun killed 12 people and injured eight before being killed himself in our nation’s capital. And today opened with news of a mass shooting attack at a pick-up basketball game at a Chicago park that injured 13 people including a three-year-old boy who was left in critical condition.

What is it going to take for us to stand up and say enough to this internal gun war of American against American? What is it going to take to create a mental health system that prevents such tragedies from happening over and over? What is it going to take for us to pass and enforce adequate gun safety laws? What is it going to take to love and protect human life, especially children more than guns? Is the doctor right that this is not America? Or is she calling for the America we must create together with urgency and persistence?

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Submitted by Jerome at: September 26, 2013
The Black community faces a serious irony. Little more than fifty years ago, black communities wanted Blacks to protect them from White men who wore "hoods" while they killed Black people and destroyed their property. Fifty years later, black communities are asking local (mostly White) police department and State National Guard units to protect them from our sons and neighbors; mostly young Black men in "hoodies" and ski masks who are killing Black people and destroying their property. Are young Black men doing the work of the Ku Klux Klan as the primary killers of Black people in America? Without much debate, the answer is yes! Although Black-on-Black destruction differs from the Klan's motivation, the results are arguably more horrific. Redeem Yourself: To Thy Own self Be True.

Submitted by Sonny at: September 23, 2013
I search my heart to come up with words to describe humans, when they are at thier worst, and it is very difficult. Humans have slaughtered other humans throughout time, with little regard to the pain caused. When we are born one of our realities is that we shall also die. It would be great, during that time between birth and death, if we learned to love each other. If we refused to embrace the greed and selfishness of the world and accept that we have but a breif time here and we should make the most of it by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Submitted by EJ at: September 23, 2013
As a 67 year old educator and after having served in poor communities for 29 of those years, it has become clear to me that the education and lives of the poor are not a national or religious priority. I hope and pray youg people such as the man metioned in this piece will continue to be produced by what seems to be a miracle.

Submitted by PW at: September 23, 2013
It is time to take a stand against gun violence. Let's see who the legislators are that take contributions from the NRA and vote them out of office, next time around. If a legislator is taking money from a lobby, of course they will represent their cause. Doesn't quite seem right.

Submitted by Anonymous at: September 22, 2013
This is America with its roots in rugged individualism and manifest destiny. Each of us must confront the critical need to call forth a kinder, gentler regard for one another, for our children, our elderly, our differences. We must recreate a sense of community and literally put down guns. Some of us unwittingly may sacrifice our lives in this process, like Tim. But so many of us are dying anyway.

Submitted by Becca at: September 21, 2013
How fortunate Timothy was to have found and be following his path of truth. May we all be so led and share that Light and sight.

Submitted by Sharon at: September 21, 2013
This what happens when we turn our back on God. They took Him out of schools and laws. They have take away religious symbols and if the could they would close church. Satan is winning the war because we are allow him to. People start praying after something bad happens. We need every to turn back to the real thing so Satan will loss. Put God back and take away the bad music that tells the young generation that this bad behavior is no acceptable.

Submitted by LBrundage at: September 21, 2013
excellent call to action.

Submitted by Tessa at: September 21, 2013
I so agree... a young man I know was recently killed for winning a dice game...He was 22 and left behind a 5 yr old child. This is the 19th person I know killed by a gun.. I am devastated . So many of our "Rights" are so abused....

Submitted by Anonymous at: September 21, 2013
It's been said before; I fear it will be said again - and again - and again - until we Americans wake up and stand up to the National Rifle Association and uphold the Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Nothing in the Constitution or any of its Amendments guarantees an individual's right to bear arms - only members of a well regulated Militia. We have police forces for state and local emergencies and the National Guard for national emergencies. Confine weapons ownership to those empowered by the Constitution - well regulated militias, trained strictly in proper uses of firearms as well as when never to use firearms - and perhaps we would lose fewer people to gunfire.

Submitted by Akbar at: September 21, 2013
It is excellent, informative

Submitted by Elizabeth at: September 21, 2013
I Am Eternally gRateful ForCDF And MWE For Keeping The Issue In Our Consciousness. We Must Act Now.

Submitted by ReadingMunkirs at: September 21, 2013
One of the barriers to America becoming sensible about guns is that the NRA and their members act like such bullies, stopping people from expressing their fears and sharing their stories and ideas for change. We have strategies for dealing with bullies in schools. Can we apply those strategies in some way with the NRA?

Submitted by Nurse grace at: September 21, 2013
Nurses and doctors are tired of treating gun shot victims. Prevention is the best medicine.

Submitted by Larry at: September 21, 2013
Only law abiding citizens obey laws.........criminals ignore them........ Is passing more laws the answer when they will only effect law-abiding citizens??

Submitted by BAM at: September 21, 2013

Submitted by Leslie at: September 21, 2013
Mass shootings aside, daily 33 people are shot with Handguns. I do not know if they all die, or if some are wounded. The CT Congressional Delegation supports Reasonable Background Checks, as well as lessening the number of bullets per gun magazine. Many are commenting on the need for greater Mental Health Services as well.

Submitted by India at: September 21, 2013
Until we as a Nation value the possibilities of all children--not just our own--we shall continue to perpetuate objectifying the young one's as, "somebody else's children," rather than OUR children.

Submitted by Veronica Hughez at: September 21, 2013
In order to truly address gun violence, we must also examine mental health issues and how they can be monitored, recorded and readily available to be tied into gun rights. They must go hand in hand. I'm glad that Dr. Edelman recognizes this in this column. I also think that the people making the decisions are not seeing what's happening directly in poorer neighborhoods so it's easier for them to fight and dismiss the need for reform until a Navy Yard or Sandy Hook occurs sadly enough.

Submitted by MRT at: September 21, 2013
The gun "issue" is a values issue. Do we in the United States of America value human life? Or do we value more than human life the right of lobbyists and gun manufacturers to use our constitution to "spin" what we as a country value?