“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work totry and eradicate…I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. Ireally would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots. Let's get rid ofthis. This is not America.” – Dr. Janis Orlowski, MedStar Hospital, after treating gunshot victims of theNavy Yard massacre
At only 24 years old Timothy Dawkinswas already well respected in his hometown of Washington, D.C. as a youngleader and youth organizer wise for his years. His colleague Trayon White, a Districtof Columbia State Board of Education member, described him to a reporter thisway: “Tim was just very different. You're talking about a young man who went toseminary school when he was 21. Someone who got married when he was 21. . . Hewas an old soul; a soldier.”
Every July, clergy, seminarians, religiouseducators, young adult leaders, and other faith-based advocates for children gatherat the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee for theannual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. It providesfive days of spiritual renewal, networking, organizing and movement building trainingto address the urgent needs of children and examine what faith and communityinstitutions can and must do to meet them. Timothy was there this year as partof CDF’s Young Advocate Leadership Training (YALT) program, whichconnects young leaders committed to protecting children, and to social justicefrom across the country. Our 2013 theme was “Beating Swords IntoPlowshares: Ending the Violence of Guns and Child Poverty,” based on a biblicalpassage from the Hebrew prophet Micah: “[God] shall judge between many peoples,and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat theirswords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall notlift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
For Timothy the training to end theviolence of guns and child poverty was deeply relevant: he was an activist inone of the District of Columbia’s poorest and most violence-strickenneighborhoods and he had already dedicated his life to answering the call topeople of faith to combat violence and make a difference. In his spare time hecould be found studying in the neighborhood library emulating role models likeDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadly, just a few weeks after Timothy attended our training,he was shot and killed walking in his Southeast D.C. neighborhood at 6:30 on asummer evening.
Police quickly suspected the gunfirewas meant for someone else and not the unarmed seminary student known in theneighborhood as a peacemaker. But what difference does that make? His friend TrayonWhite said, “Unfortunately he was a victim of ignorance. . . He was truly an example for ouryoung people, and we need more examples, especially Black men, standing in thegap, because we’re lost out here.” Timothy left behind a wife and atwo-year-old son. He also left a neighborhood and community that are richer becauseof his dedication and presence but also much poorer because of his senselessdeath. And he left a city and nation that have yet to stand up to the scourgeof gun violence that kills or injures a child or teen every half hour and haskilled more people in America in our unremitting civil war fueled by guns thanall the declared wars against external enemies in our history.
Justthis week—extremely personal to all of us at CDF because a beloved colleaguewas among those in lockdown in the Navy Yard’s tragedy—a man with mental illnesswielding a sawed-off shotgun killed 12 people and injured eight before beingkilled himself in our nation’s capital. And today opened with news of a mass shootingattack at a pick-up basketball game at a Chicago park that injured 13 peopleincluding a three-year-old boy who was left in critical condition.
What is it going to take for us to stand upand say enough to this internal gun war of American against American? What isit going to take to create a mental health system that prevents such tragediesfrom happening over and over? What is it going to take for us to pass andenforce adequate gun safety laws? What is it going to take to love and protecthuman life, especially children more than guns? Is the doctor right that thisis not America? Or is she calling for the America we must create together withurgency and persistence?