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Child Watch® Column: "What Killed President Kennedy and Trayvon Martin?"

Release Date: February 22, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

February 26 will mark one year since 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed by a gun wielded by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman after he saw Trayvon walking home from a 7-Eleven with a bag of Skittles and bottle of Arizona iced tea.

Black children, youths, and families know first-hand that the killing of Black children by gun violence is not new but a relentlessly unreported and under-reported plague that has been disproportionately snuffing out Black child lives for a very long time. Fifteen percent of children and teens are Black but 45 percent of all children and youths killed by guns in 2010 were Black. Black boys 15 to 19 years old were 28 times more likely than White boys the same age to be killed in a gun homicide.

Shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that it was time for our nation to do some soul-searching, and while the question “Who killed President Kennedy?” was important, answering the question “What killed President Kennedy?” was even more critical. Dr. King believed the answer was that “our late President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate”: “It is a climate filled with heavy torrents of false accusation, jostling winds of hatred, and raging storms of violence. It is a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable, and where they express dissent through violence and murder. It is the same climate that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and six innocent Negro children in Birmingham, Alabama.” Dr. King further noted that the undercurrents of hatred and violence that made up this morally inclement climate were fueled by our cultural embrace of guns: “By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim, by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the technique of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”

The same winds of hatred, storms of violence, and easy access to and glorification of guns that Dr. King believed killed President Kennedy would soon also kill Dr. King. Fifty years after Dr. King described our morally inclement climate, the outward signs of racial intolerance and hatred have undoubtedly diminished but there are still far too many reminders of the dangers lurking everywhere that devastate us all—like Trayvon’s senseless death for walking home while Black. Between 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and 2010, nearly 60,000 Black children and teens were killed by guns, over 1,200 every year for 48 years. This is 17 times the number of reported lynchings of Black Americans of all ages since 1882 but we have not had an equivalent Black community anti-lynching movement to save our children from gun violence.

While there are troubling undertones of racial suspicion and fear in Trayvon Martin’s killing which must be addressed as justice is sought, the fact is that most Black young people murdered by guns are killed by Black shooters —just as most White children and teens murdered by guns are killed by White shooters. Sadly the tragedies of Tucson, Aurora, Newtown and elsewhere made clear that none of us are safe anywhere or immune to the pervasive threat of gun violence.

We are all in the same boat and must act together to stop the plague of violence. Gun safety laws that only apply in one city or state can’t fully stop our national epidemic of gun proliferation and violence any better than we can stop a flu epidemic by vaccinating one family. We must struggle together to stop gun violence and to change the morally inclement climate that Dr. King warned about if we are going to protect all of our nation’s children everywhere.


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 www.childrensdefense.org.

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

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Submitted by PPACRM at: February 26, 2013
Kennedy was killed because he and his brother bit the hand that put them in office. Trayvon Martin, who knows, certainly not you or I. Ms. Edelman, I have the greatest respect for you, but please stick to nutrition, education and economic opportunity for children and their families.

Submitted by Pril at: February 26, 2013
Thank you

Submitted by Sammy at: February 25, 2013
You keep insisting that taking away the second amendment rights will somehow help solve the problem. How about if some of the people stop trying to divide the races by constantly telling them they need the government to help them and that the "other" guys have been screwing them for years. It's when we all work together to solve our problems that things actually get done. Your attempt to disarm the nation will not have the effect you are aiming for.

Submitted by Vern at: February 25, 2013
Not just the Black or the White, don't forget the Latin people that are killed every hour in Mexico from the guns that are purchased in USA...Think about it!!

Submitted by Kathy at: February 25, 2013
We can solve this. The effort has to be led by mothers who have had enough with this senseless plague of violence.We are so much better than this.

Submitted by jmm at: February 25, 2013
I support my second ammendment right to bear arms proud NRA member

Submitted by Ibsaa Dhugaasaa at: February 25, 2013
I was very thrilled whenever I read Dr. Edelman's paper. As a new immigrant who came from war thorn, the only Imperial state left on the world, Ethiopia where people particularly the Oromo people categorical killing, discrimination, and denial of human right and non-existence of the rule of law always makes me concern what my children's future life will looks like since the stories like Trayvon Martin was killed by a gun wielded by self-appointed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman emerged. As Dr. Edelman said we as a nation we came long way and things is not the same as 50years a go but we have still need to do more to improve and create equal opportunities for all of our children and citizens. It is clear that in all area of life the condition in which people of color especially black people lives needs some genuine answer. The percentages of black people in general and the number of children in particular represent is very low but when it comes to killing, living in poverty, low academic achievement, high rate of unemployment or underemployment, high percentage of incarceration and etc. is very high among black communities. Therefore, as develop nation and the world’s supper power in many circumstances we need to take a closer look into how we could overcome these unacceptable happening to children’s of color.

Submitted by Carla at: February 25, 2013
I completely share Mrs. Edelman's views from her Child Watch Column, and am sadly disappointed as to why our society cannot seem to move past the seeming addiction to gun violence. I feel there is a great need to educate our children about making better choices for the future.

Submitted by Chaos at: February 24, 2013
Expediency is the enemy and less freedom is the result. The day is soon coming for all of us and not just some, when we got to sleep in fear, we awake in fear and we go through our day in fear. When our children must wear body armor to go to school and the rest of us too. We have allowed guns and thousands of other toxins to proliferate our society all in the name of freedom(profits). The only freedom we will have left is to carry a gun and be poisoned or shot.

Submitted by Anonymous at: February 24, 2013
I am in full agreement with you. Politicians under the infleunce of lobbist money will forever continue to see needed changes,yet do nothing. Our votes at the polls can make a difference. We need to support people who really care about our children.

Submitted by ming at: February 24, 2013
Right on the target - no pun intended! We need to stop the vindictive arguing, recognize that expressing different opinions is the legitimate way to find solutions, and read the constitution as it was intended rather that as the gun lobby interprets it!

Submitted by Leslie at: February 24, 2013
I was in Hartford on Feb. 14 demonstrating against access to guns, for School Safety and Responsible Storage as well. This is a good column.

Submitted by caring at: February 24, 2013
the numbers are appalling and I'm ashamed of my friends who think everyone should be armed and every day hides dangers directed at them

Submitted by Anonymous at: February 23, 2013
Excellent and so very timely!!

Submitted by Zal at: February 23, 2013
Just as Dr. King said, the System is trying to normalize a climate of weapons, violence, hatred and ignorance. My personal solution is to melt down all the guns with all the motorcycles.

Submitted by Jas at: February 23, 2013
People kill people - with whatever they have available - if that is their intention. I personally do not expect my 'government' to always protect me and my family no matter wherever we are or whatever we are doing. We all should be willing to be responsible for OUR own actions.

Submitted by harrietb98 at: February 23, 2013
What killed President Kennedy? What killed Trayvon Martin? The answer is HATE. The most destructive force, on earth, is hate. That is what we need to try to end.

Submitted by Eastonmom at: February 23, 2013
Gun violence affects primarily the poor and women. It is an unfair burden. I see the perpetuation of the morally inclement climate Dr King spoke of in the polarization of our politics. Our representatives in Washington need to hear from us. The NRA has its minions shouting and we the silent majority need to raise our voices louder. When I hear them pushing fear and hatred of my fellow American I push back harder with understanding and love. I refuse let the corporate gun industry further divide us. They are the enemy I will fight.

Submitted by Gatlin at: February 23, 2013
Trayvon Martin was not a victim of Stand your ground, but of stalking by Zimmerman which ended in the death of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon Martin was being stalked, armed with only food, did not he have a right to defend himself; yet he was, if Zimmerman's account has any truth, defending himself against an armed man (not a boy). And if this fight even took place, I am just sorry Travon Martin was unable to reverse the firing muzzle on the stalker to save himself. Obviously, this stalking should never have happened which would have prevented an unnecessary death.

Submitted by Gatlin at: February 23, 2013
Yes, but President Kennedy was killed in a crossfire of guns. It is doubtful that Lee Harvey Oswald even had gunfire residue on him. Independent Witnesses placed him in an eating area on a diff. floor. Witnesses who described the gunfire from so many areas that day were not ever permitted to testify to the Warren Commission. The Gov't Official who would have been over the safety of the President had been sent away on a conconcted other duty in another location verified by Dist. Atty. Jim Garrison evidence. One Assassin group left by plane from Dallas verified in book "Barry and the Boys" by Hopsicker. There were many books that would have verified the above written, but they were only available for purchase in hours and most less than a day; then disappeared from sales shelves. As a school librarian I could hardly believe that the truth was not coming out. Now with so called evidence not to be exposed for 75 years when most of us who were REALLY CONSCIOUS OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING AT THE TIME will be dead, I cannot help but be fretful that it may be just more of the coverup that takes place at that time. "Best Evidence" exposed a lot of it and one later ed. listed all of the so called deaths that many have always believed were "hits" who were witnesses to THE QUESTIONS still existing about THE KILLING OF THE PRESIDENT. It was one of the most awful conspiracies of our time.