The prayer vigil had barely started when the gunfire broke out.
I was standing on the street corner of Shaw and Klemm to attend a prayer vigil, honoring the second anniversary of the death of VonDerritt Myers. Thirty to forty people were already there and more people were streaming into the neighborhood to attend.
VonDerritt had not died under sympathetic circumstances. He had a shoot-out with an off-duty police officer and VonDerritt lost. There are many versions of exactly what happened to result in a shoot-out, but VonDerritt had run-ins with the police before, there was a shoot-out, and now he was dead. Many of us were there not to pass judgment, though. We were there to grieve with his mother and father – two wonderful people – and lament the chronic gun violence that plagues our streets.
I knew something was amiss when a young mother quietly grabbed her little boy by the shoulders and drug him between the apartment buildings as she looked over her shoulder. I followed her gaze and saw Mr. Myers trying to separate some young fellows who were facing off in the middle of the street as Mr. Myers spoke quietly to them. A tingling at the back of my neck told me this was not good and it was time to go.
No sooner had I crossed the intersection to the opposite corner when I heard, “Pop! Pop! Pop-pop-pop- pop…” echoing down the street.
Someone screamed and dozens of people scattered in every direction, diving and crouching behind cars, I among them. I then heard a deeper “Boom!…Boom!” of a larger caliber weapon answering the staccato pops of the lighter weapon.
I dodged my way up Shaw and crouched behind a brick pillar at Mullanphy School as more shots continued to echo up the street. It sounded like a full-out gun battle. I was to learn the next day that the police recovered 56 spent shell-casings around the intersection. I managed to make it to my own car and had difficulty pulling away, for other people who wished to attend the vigil kept driving into the neighborhood, unaware of the pitched gun battle. I only managed to pull away by driving up over the curb backwards across the common area between the sidewalk and the street.
In 15 minutes I was sitting at Daughter #2’s dinner table, about 20 miles and a world away from Shaw and Klemm. I drank a beer. I ate a meatloaf dinner. I watched my grandchildren through the dining room window playing outside, tossing a red Frisbee about their green yard.
I am certain I do not know or understand all the stresses and strains of urban living. I am baffled by the problem of urban violence. People far wiser and educated in these matters than me are equally baffled by it all, so I don’t expect myself to come up with some silver bullet solution to end urban violence. But I do see that toxic machismo mixed with guns is a lethal combination. If one were to drive down Shaw from end to end, most people would be impressed with how lovely and stately the buildings are; that it looks like a great place to live. It is not a depressed area.
But two things keep coming to mind now whenever I hear about shootings like this. I ask myself, “How do we corral the guns?” and, more importantly to my thinking, “How do we end the toxic machismo that’s just killing our young men?”
Our nation continues to wrangle over the first question and has for decades with little to show for it except a rising body count. I don’t hold out much hope on that front.
Personally, I hear even less talk about the second question, particularly among men, and I think it is the more important question: how do we end the toxic machismo rampant among the young men of our nation?
How do we go about that? How do we raise boys to be healthy, well-adjusted, self-controlled young men? We try education programs and we still have toxic behavior. We cram them into jails and we still have toxic behavior. We try family support groups and we still have toxic behavior. Few if any of them attend church, so we don’t seem to be of much help there. Does anybody have any answers? I’m all ears. Right about now, I’m at a loss.
I guess, at this point, all we can do is to keep showing up for people and being there for them, listening and modeling the life that will keep young men from self-destructing. That, and pray for strength and wisdom. I’m not qualified to lecture anyone on this topic. Besides, words and opinions are so prevalent today that they are becoming meaningless to many people. At the very least, this is a moment for a Ministry of Presence. We need to be there, wherever “there” may be.
By the way, my darling C has permanently grounded me from any street vigils. She wants to see her husband come home at night.