Political Animal


February 02, 2013 1:47 PM Meet Shirley Chambers. She has lost every one of her four children to gun violence.

By Kathleen Geier

Horrific mass shootings like the ones that occurred last year in Newtown and Aurora grab a lot of headlines, and understandably so. They are among the very worst crimes imaginable, and the amount of devastation a single person with an automatic or semi-automatic weapon can do in a short space of time is so ghastly and overwhelming it defies comprehension.

But actually, mass shootings probably aren’t becoming more common, though often it seems as if they are. In reality, gun violence is concentrated in low-income and urban neighborhoods, and its victims tend to be people of color, particularly young men of color. African-Americans are about 13% of the population, yet in 2010 they made up 56% of all gun-related homicides. Gun homicide is now the leading cause of death of black teens, and the racial disparities in gun violence don’t appear to be going away. One criminologist has estimated that the likelihood that a white male born today will be murdered is about 1 in 158, whereas for a black male it is 1 in 27. As David Cole argued in a recent New York Times op-ed, in this country, it is communities of color who pay an unbearably high price for the paranoid obsessions of a declining subset of crazy old white dudes.

In much of the country, I suppose, it might be possible to be oblivious of the race and class dimensions of the gun debate. But if, as I do, you live in Chicago and even occasionally pick up a newspaper or watch the local news, it’s inconceivable that you could remain ignorant of these facts. Chicago is currently experiencing an epidemic of gun violence. In 2012, 516 people were murdered here, and thus far in 2013 we are exceeding even last year’s rate. A local reporter recently noted that the murder rate here is far worse than it was back in Al Capone’s heyday in the 1920s. Every week, particularly during and right after the weekend, you pick up the paper, see photos of young African-American faces, and read the heartrending stories.

One of the recent ones that really got to me was this one, about 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton. A week before her death, Hadiya, whom friends and family described as an honor student, a majorette and a great reader, had attended President Obama’s inauguration. She was an innocent bystander who was shot dead this Tuesday at 2:30 in the afternoon. Here’s one description of her death:

“As usual, the bad guy aims, but he never hits the other bad guy … He hits the one that hurts the most to lose,” said Chicago Police Officer Damon Stewart, 36, Hadiya ’s godfather. “I changed her diapers, I played with her growing up. My heart is broken.”

And then there is the tragic story of a 54-year old Chicago woman named Shirley Chambers. One week ago, Mrs. Chambers lost her 33-year old son, Ronnie, to gun violence. But that wasn’t Shirley Chambers’ first tragic loss. Each and every one of her four children has died as a result of gun-related homicide. In addition to Ronnie, she’s buried 18-year old Carlos, who was shot and killed in 1995; 23-year old Jerome, who was shot and killed in April 2000; and then, 15-year old LaToya, who was shot and killed just three months after Jerome.

In a powerful piece written after Newtown, Garry Wills described guns as our Moloch, a demonic, insatiable god whom we as a culture adore, and to whom we continue to make the ultimate human sacrifice: our children.


Here is Shirley Chambers.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • c u n d gulag on February 02, 2013 4:40 PM:

    FSM, what an awful, awful, story.

    I wrote this earlier today, at LG&M, and thought I'd share it with you:

    Sorry if this insults you, not-so-dear gun fetishists, who own more than a simple handgun to protect your familiy and property, and/or a rifle to hunt with, but you¡¯re pussies ¨C and I don¡¯t mean that in an insulting way to any women who may read this.

    It¡¯s just that, in today¡¯s America, that word, ¡°pussy,¡± defines your level of cowardice, fear, and paranoia, best.

    Now, I¡¯ll grant you that I don¡¯t know jack-sh*t about your precious guns.

    I grew-up in NY City.
    I lived in 4 of the boroughs, and in some fairly dangerous neighborhoods, or near some really dangerous ones (and mostly, they were dangerous because the crimes often involoved drugs and guns ¨C yes, most of the guns were illegal, but guns none-the-less).

    I lived in Center City, Philadelphia, right next to one of the worst neighborhoods in the city.

    And, I lived in an old and down-trodden apartment complex in a not too good part of Fayetteville, NC. This complex housed a lot of military personel, and their families, who were relatively poor.

    I also worked as a bartender and bouncer in the Alphabet Jungle in the Lower East Side of NY City, back in the late 70¡äs and early 80¡äs. That, was a very rough part of Manhattan back then. As a matter of fact, one of the bars I worked at when I was bartending, had a huge Hells Angel working security.
    And guess what?
    He didn¡¯t carry a gun. Or a knife. He was just one huge, tough looking, tatted-up, SOB.

    And, and all of my almost 55 years, I never saw a gun in any of those places.

    Never felt the need for one in my apartments in the poorer neightborhoods.
    Never felt the need for a gun when I walked the streets, day or night, of the 4 boroughs I lived in, or Bronx either, where I visited often ¨C and, my bartending/bouncing shifts in those sh*tty neighborhoods, often ended at 2 or 4 am, with a long walk to the subway, since most cabs didn¡¯t drive around that part of town - since it was considered pretty "dangerous."

    So, I didn¡¯t grow up around guns.
    I lived in ¡°urban¡± areas that would scare the living sh*t out of a lot of Heartland ¡®Murkins, if they ever got lost in NY and Phillie, and never felt the need, or wanted, a gun.

    And yeah, in all of the years I lived there, I did get mugged.
    After leaving my bartending shift at 2am.
    By 4 ¡°Blah¡± teenagers. With knives.

    Did I get scared, and move out of the city? HELL NO!
    Did I run out and buy a gun? No.
    Did I run out and buy a knife? No.
    I just kept doing what I had always done, and never had another problem in all of the years I lived there.

    Now, I¡¯m not exactly a tiny man, and wasn¡¯t then. But I wasn¡¯t like that Hells Angel.
    Mostly, I carried a book or newspaper around with me, so that I had something to read once I got to the subway station, since, sometimes it takes some time for your subway to arrive in the dead of night. And, it was better etiquette to read something, than look, or stare, at any fellow people waiting for the train, if any, and any passengers, if any, who might be on that train in the dead of night (Hint: Look for a subway car with people in it, you'll be ok).

    So, let me ask you, if I didn¡¯t feel the need for a gun when I lived and worked in those "shitty" neighborhoods (which I loved, btw), or wanted one, why do you feel the need to carry an AR-15 with a large magazine strapped to your back to go to your local Chick-fil-A for lunch or dinner?
    Or, your home?
    Or in your car?
    Or the movie theater?

    The only conclusion I can come to, is that you¡¯re a frightened and cowardly pussy, with some self-esteem and mental issues.


  • c u n d gulag on February 02, 2013 4:44 PM:

    Too long.
    And sorry about those nasty little whodjamawhatsis, instead of comma's and apostrophes.

    Here, if you care, is the conclusion:

    So, let me ask you, if I didn’t feel the need for a gun when I lived and worked in those "shitty" neighborhoods (which I loved, btw), or wanted one, why do you feel the need to carry an AR-15 with a large magazine strapped to your back to go to your local Chick-fil-A for lunch or dinner?
    Or, your home?
    Or in your car?
    Or the movie theater?

    The only conclusion I can come to, is that you’re a frightened and cowardly pussy, with some self-esteem and mental issues.

    Btw: I’m not such an anti-gun nut that I feel that ALL guns should be outlawed – though that would be nice.

    No, if you feel the need for a simple handgun to protect yourself, your family, and your property, feel free – though your chances of someone being shot by accident in your homre far outweigh your chances of having to face-down 4 vicious armed intruders.

    And, if you want to keep a rifle or two, because you enjoy hunting, and because it provides a cheap source of protein for you and yours, have at it!

    I don’t hunt, and I still don’t feel the need to have a gun where I live in a suburb in Upstate NY, for protection. And I don’t want one.

    Please take the time to explain why I shouldn’t come to the conclusion that you’re a fearful pussy, with self-exteem and mental issues.
    But, be nice.
    Words can hurt.
    Not as bad as a bullet, but they CAN hurt.
    Like I’m sure that calling people who feel the need, or want, to carry guns around, 24X7, a pussy, hurts you to your core.

    End, of long-@$$ word-turd rant.
    Begin your verbal assault, gun nuts - aka: pussies.

  • emjayay on February 02, 2013 6:14 PM:

    I'm all for any aspect of gun control. But obviously that isn't the whole answer to the problems addressed here. Root causes must be addressed. For example:

    End all long term (say more than a year or two) subsidized housing.

    Get rid of all receational drug laws.

    Raise the minimum wage to at least equal to the peak in 1969, corrected for inflation.

    Maybe some short term only Federal jobs doing something useful like what the CCC used to do, without the camps.

    For some reason every inspiring article I have ever seen about someone who got off welfare with a good paying job is about them getting a government job counseling welfare recipients or drug addicts or something. And they usually now live in a lovely new townhouse that is a pretty and much more expensive version of demolished public housing with a rent a quarter of market rates and the rest paid by other taxpayers. Not neccessarily good or cost-effective solutions.

    And what's this about TicketMaster or whatever they're called dumping Captcha for a new fun mini-quiz deal that computers can't crack but is a snap for humans?

  • Neildsmith on February 03, 2013 6:49 AM:

    Tragedy and irony...

    GLEN ROSE, Texas (AP) — Former Navy SEAL and "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle was fatally shot along with another man Saturday on a Texas gun range, a sheriff told local newspapers.

    I'm guessing they felt safe with their guns locked and loaded... And yet, even a Navy Seal wasn't safe.

  • Neildsmith on February 03, 2013 6:58 AM:

    So apparently the shooter who killed the sniper was also an Iraq war veteran.

    "Eddie Ray Routh, an Iraqi war veteran, was arrested hours later after a manhunt led authorities to Lancaster where Routh was taken into custody just before 9 p.m. Saturday."


  • Rick Massimo on February 03, 2013 10:01 AM:

    Yeah, I can't help noticing that the NRA never, say, partners with a local gun shop to set up gun shows or give out discounts on guns in blah neighborhoods. You know, because obviously the solution to the "black-on-black violence" they keep screaming about is more guns in the hands of black folks.

  • Bob M on February 03, 2013 11:31 AM:

    When a Newton father spoke against certain outlandish features of attack weapons, he was interrupted by hecklers shouting, "Second Amendment", which was just like jokers from a few centuries back papering over atrocities by invoking the divine right of kings. Same approach. Same corruption.

    When the Constitution is invoked to stop thinking and communicating, things are bad.

  • Anonymous on February 05, 2013 5:03 AM:

    I find it interesting that the article and comments dont mention that these four African american children were killed with the types of weapons that won't get banned, and all three ere killed by previously arrested criminals who were walking the streets because of Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eight amendment protections.

    The entire episode is an argument for calling the ACLU "extremists" and calling for the President to limit due process, end protection against self incrimination etc.

    I recently registered a semi automatic handgun in Washington DC. They registered as many weapons int eh first three weeks of January as the entire year of 2012.

    The firearms registration office had 28 people in the process of registering that day and not a single one, including myself, was as one racist commentor above claimed "old white guys."

    There were 16 women and 12 men. 21 were African American, and seven were caucasion women. Most were between 30 to 40 years of age.