Dear Mayor Filner: The Sandy Hook school massacre last month has opened a national conversation about gun violence in this country, and well it should. The lives of twenty-six human beings, the majority of whom still had their baby teeth, were snuffed out in the amount of time it took to discharge a high capacity magazine from a gun that was developed for the military’s conduct of war.
It didn’t take much time and the devastation was total, consistent with the military’s expectations in the conduct of war, and so not consistent with our assumptions of what it means to send our children in safety to elementary school.
I have no doubt that this event has affected you on many levels. I also know that you were here in City Heights this past year when we held a vigil for Trayvon Martin, the African American high school student who lost his life when George Zimmerman “stood his ground” in Florida. You were affected by that murder, that individual murder, and spoke at the vigil. I heard you and I remember.
I would like to recount the tale of three gun deaths that have taken place here in City Heights. In August of 2011, San Diego Police Officer Jeremy Henwood was shot and killed at the end of my block by Dejon Marquee White. White was subsequently shot and killed by a police officer.
A year and a half later, residents and fellow officers continue to struggle with the death of Officer Henwood who came home alive from two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan and was shot on a City Heights street. He was 36 years old. An effort has been made to establish a portion of a local park in his memory.
We know virtually nothing about 23 year old Dejon Marquee White, who left a suicide note and then went on a deadly rampage that ended in his own death.
On June 30, 2012, Rickquese McCoy was killed in a random shooting on 44th Street that also claimed the life of Stephen McClendon and seriously injured another person. Rickquese was 18 years old. Because Rickquese lived in City Heights and was male, it was “obligatory” for the reporter to address whether he was or was not associated with gangs.
Rickquese was male, lived in City Heights and was not associated with gangs. He was an 18 year old who had his life snuffed out by three men who fired forty rounds on his block.
Healing 44th Street: The McCoys. Video shot and produced by Sam Hodgson.
These three deaths in City Heights don’t have much in common with the mass shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Nothing in common, except for the fact that these deaths in City Heights were the result of bullets fired from guns.
We have an obligation to make sure that our national discourse on gun violence encompasses more than mass shootings and access to military assault weapons and high capacity magazines. If we are unwilling to have that broader discussion, we are unwilling to talk about gun violence and gun deaths in City Heights and other San Diego neighborhoods.
If my husband were to step outside onto our porch in City Heights tonight, and be cut down by some random shooter, the reportage would include the follow- up line “his wife says that Richard was not affiliated with gangs.” I am asking you Mayor Filner and readers to give some meaningful thought to what that obligatory follow up line conveys as both explanation and judgment about the loss of life to gun violence in a specific community.
We are struggling as a nation to explain how the Sandy Hook shooting occurred. This struggle to explain has brought up issues of mental health, the ease of access to guns and discussion about the kinds of guns that are available. The underlying assumption that an affluent, largely white community like Newtown Connecticut should be by definition a safe environment for its residents speaks volumes. The massacre of human beings is not supposed to happen in places like Sandy Hook Elementary School–or an Aurora Colorado movie theater.
We must be very careful not to normalize all of the other places where individual gun violence is occurring with greater frequency than mass shootings. When Officer Jeremy Henwood was shot and killed, there was no sustained soul searching in the city, no discussion about access to guns.
When Rickquese McCoy was shot and killed, there was no sustained soul searching across the city to understand how that could have happened. Beyond the efforts of Rickquese’s family and neighbors, we have done nothing as a larger society in San Diego to stop the carnage in City Heights or other San Diego communities which have experienced an uptick of gun violence.
Why do we have so little interest in the mental health issues and personal circumstances that motivated 23 year old Dejon Marquee White to leave a suicide note and go on a murderous rampage? Compare that to what we know about Adam Lanza.
Is it ok to write off a young person’s life if they are associated with a gang? Is it that easy to determine the “bad guys” and move on without further thought about what creates gang affiliations in often desperately poor households and equally poor neighborhoods?
Unless we live in a community that experiences gun violence, there is little interest in understanding why that violence occurs. This indifference is dangerous to all of us. As mayor, you have both the power and responsibility to address the issue of gun violence in the city. Indifference was not an option in Newtown Connecticut. Indifference should not be an option here in City Heights or anywhere else in the city of San Diego.
As a City Heights resident I am asking you to:
- Work to close the gun show loopholes on the provision of background checks for gun purchases.
- Work to divest City of San Diego pension funds from gun manufacturers.
- Become a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns
- Increase the number of gun buy back programs in the City of San Diego
- Work to end the failed war on drugs which is inextricably intertwined with gun violence here in the US and in neighboring Mexico
- Work to end poverty in our communities
- Support programs and activities that provide support to our kids and alternatives to associating with gangs
Thank you. Anna Daniels