Leonard Pitts Jr.: We’ve failed so many children
I still remember your funeral.
I still remember the white casket, small with only two handles on each side.
I still remember the red teddy bear someone had placed near your head.
I still remember then-Florida state lawmaker Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall weeping over your coffin, then-Congressman Kendrick Meek standing there in speechless anguish, and then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio deploring the violence that took you away at just nine years of age. “In our very midst,” he said, “we sit on a crisis of epic proportions” that we fail to recognize.
At your graveside, they released a white dove and it zoomed away, skimming through the trees.
You write different columns for different reasons. Some you write to argue a point, some to vent anger. One reason I write this one, Sherdavia Jenkins, is because this week makes 10 years since you died and I feel the need to call your name.
Not that it will resonate for many people. They won’t know it in Seattle, Austin or Denver. But they’ll never forget it in Miami.
I’ve never been quite clear on why that is. After all, it’s not as if it’s unknown for children to be shot to death — in South Florida or elsewhere. So I’ve always wondered why you’re the one Miami named a park for, the one that is remembered.
Maybe it’s because you were a child of uncommon promise. At your funeral, they passed out a booklet of certificates you’d received, documenting excellence in reading, science, math and Spanish. You had your school’s top scores on the state math test and were named “best all-around student.”
So maybe we’re stung by the fact of a sparkling future, foreclosed. Or maybe it’s just the way you died, in a crossfire between two punk gangsters, while playing outside your own front door. What kind of country is it when a child is not safe on her own doorstep?
But again, your story is not unique. In the decade since you fell, thousands of other children have died by gunfire. They all had names, too.
Joseph Spencer, age 12, died nine years ago in Jackson, Miss.
Michael Alvin Muha, age 12, died eight years ago in Redstone Township, Pa.
Roberto Lopez, age 4, died seven years ago in Los Angeles.
Rosay J. Butler Jr., age 3, died six years ago in Selma, Ala.
Gabriel Martinez Jr., age 5, died five years ago in Oakland.
Delric Miller, age 9 months, died four years ago in Detroit.
Antonio Santiago, age 13 months, died three years ago in Brunswick, Ga.
Davia Garth, age 12, died two years ago in Cleveland.
Ja’Quail Mansaw, age 7 months, died last year in Kansas City, Kan.
King Carter, age 6, died in February near Miami.
Chicago is awash in the blood of its children. South Florida is routinely heartbroken. And I haven’t even mentioned the weekly massacres of children and adults in places like Newtown, Aurora and Orlando.
Sherdavia, I’d love to be able to say we’ve taken decisive action to fix this, but we haven’t. A nation where the right to free speech is regulated and the right to freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures was just narrowed again somehow considers the right to have a gun to be sacrosanct.
Lawmakers refuse to consider measures favored by the vast majority of us to keep guns away from those who should not have them. Yet we keep returning these paragons of moral idiocy to office. That includes Sen. Marco Rubio, who spoke at your funeral.
As I said, Sherdavia, you write columns for various reasons. I’ve given you one reason I’m writing this one. The other is simply that I felt the need to say the obvious: We’ve failed you in life and in death and I’m sorry.
You deserved better. They all did.