Bullets don't have eyes, and there are no civilians in war, are true statements and should not be used to help describe the distorted realities of living in America. In response to a call for content by Tocsin Magazine, I would like to offer this contribution. It is based on my views from my community and my experiences of living with guns and the fallout of guns in the hands of people who were not responsible to make cognitive, intelligent decisions where weapons are concerned. Sadly, I have had far too many experiences, from being shot in my head by gang members who were shooting at my father while I was pregnant to more recently having my vehicle shot while parked in front of my home.
I am a poet and I will share this experience from my book My Inner City Blues; Views from My Reality because I felt that I had to write it out as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, many people in my community have not tapped into positive, constructive ways to release trauma that attacks us daily. Here is what happened....
I was at the laundry, and this little boy, around four or five years old, started talking to me. His older person, who may have been watching him, was close by. After talking to the child for a few minutes, he pulled a toy gun out and pointed at me. He pulled the trigger and repeated his actions. I was horrified because it was so real, a young child; with a gun, and the community is telling him it is okay to play with guns by their silence. Guns are never toys. Guns are lethal weapons that need to be operated by responsible people who can make coherent, logical decisions.
I told the little boy that I wasn't going to play with him because he had a gun and pulled it on me and that that action was not nice. The little boy looked confused. He came back and tried to talk with his weapon being put away. I gave the little boy another chance; within minutes, he had pulled his gun out on me again. The ramifications of what was really going on were boggling my brain. Here is the poem that came out of that experience.
The Little Boy at the Laundromat
Why do people encourage children?
To play with guns?
Why do people tolerate children playing with a gun?
Why are we shocked when they hurt?
Other people using guns?
I don't understand it!!!!
It just sounds insane
And then we call on God
Or better yet—
Say he's the blame
Is it just me?
Or do others see the same thing
To quietly remain.
I know we have buried too many
Beautiful, innocent children.
We have closed the casket on too
Many loved ones
Who was taken too soon?
We have closed our eyes
tried to hide
and made God cry.
Have we disregarded
To justify killing Blacks
As a legal defense?
Have we prepared these children?
For the day of "at one meant"
Or been too busy trying to pay rent
To care about where our eternity is spent.
You heard about the Rapture,
And how it will be as a thief in the night;
We shall all be caught up
When Christ cracks the sky.
Will you make it to our heavenly home on high?
If we keep letting children die
From guns and violence
Where do you think this all will end?
What will it take to embrace
each other with love and
as equal, human-kin
The faces of our children
Gone to soon
The empty place
The pain of loss
The shame should compel us
To find a solution
At all cost.
I was so encouraged to share my voice from that Zoom meeting sponsored by Tocsin Magazine (Newsletter 9_24 (2).pdf) last night that I left my home early this morning to speak with the gatekeepers of my community. I wanted to get their response on what they say as the reason and possible solutions for the gun violence. Their response surprised me because they said that they see the problems and understand the issues but were basically giving up on trying to help in the solution because, as they see it, the young children who are using the guns are lost. "The people using guns have no respect and no home training," is what I was told. There were other comments like; the people using guns don't have anything to do, they aren't in school, and they feel hopeless. The unequal justice compounds the hopelessness they view as reality shown by the police and other legal systems in places like redlining, medical disparities, and educational opportunities.
The outcome from the conversation was that learned hopelessness, as Pavlov's experiment showed, had been very effective in breaking down the moral and psychological mindset of the younger generation. When the younger generation is viewing society from their lens, they do not see a way out of the current situations, and the generation that was before them has said they are not going to try because they understand the system because they lived through it and the younger ones have valid points of rebellion.
So, what is the solution? How do we get to the next step? I believe that we have a long way to go to undo the damage that has already been done to their mindset; however, I believe that we still have a chance. I asked about the people's spiritual beliefs, both those I was speaking to and the younger ones who appeared lost. The response was that many of them know about God and may believe in Jesus, but they don't have guidance to help develop that spiritual aspect of their faith relationship. I was told that the majority of the parents are too busy partying with their children to instill godly morals and values.
Religious beliefs are a bigger problem for people whose DNA have always been that their religious belief is that their highest value is their relationship with God, versus the Western Civilization value system that maintains that their highest value is seeking the object- things like wealth, power, status and tangible objects. When people place their faith in objects and obtain tangible objects by force, it leaves God out of the picture. To compound the problem many people, look at churches and believe that the people inside are in the same moral turmoil and, therefore, can't help them. The issue of hypocrisy is another issue that we will not deal with at this time.
In conclusion, gun violence is a product of our society's decaying moral values and is not going to get better on its own. We have to find ways to reach the young people through their value system, and we have to engage them to find out what that value system comprises to change the outcomes that we have been experiencing. We must also reach them at an early age, and we must work together with wrap-around services for the young people and their parents to be effective. We can't rely upon one component to work; there must be unity within every level of interaction with the people from education, spiritual, legal, etc. Our lives depend upon us getting this relationship and models right as a society, and because we can't teach what we don't know and we can't lead where we won't go, we have to be there physically to lead by example. For many people to be able to help, there may need to be some individual work done because hurt people hurt people; but healed people can help heal, and we are all wounded healers.
The ball is in our court; what are you willing to do to help make a change that will help be the change? Gandhi said, "We must be the change we want to see in the world." It is a fact that a person convinced against their will agrees still and that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. How much do you care? Are you willing to help be the solution because bullets don't have eyes, and as the NIMBY theory goes, it may not be in your backyard today, but Lord willing and tomorrow comes, and it is in your backyard; who will be there to help you?
Angela Waters Bamford is a Chicago native who lives an exciting life as an ordained minister who is the grandmother of 19 and great grandmother of 12. A graduate of Gammon Theological Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA, with a Master of Divinity and Master in Christian Education degrees, she is an International Poet of Merit Recipient and has been honored with many accolades. Her experiences include that of the prison chaplain, former Board Member for the State of Kansas for Disability Rights, and is Co-Founder of Light of Hope Church, a congregation primarily of the differently abled persons. She is currently an Assistant Pastor (Vicar) at the Church of United Nations in Cambridge, UK, and is as well a member of the Black Storytelling League of Rochester, in New York. You can find out more about Minister Bamford at www.angelamwaters.com, and her books are books available at https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/angela-waters