On the grounds outside of the Capitol building here in Washington, D.C., more than 7,000 pairs of empty shoes covered the normally pristine, verdant lawn — a chilling reminder of the same number of children, all younger than 18, killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook school shooting.
Each pair served as a memorial — all that’s left of children who will never be able to fulfill their destinies, who will never reach adulthood or find true love and perhaps have children of their own and whose parents, in just a heartbeat, found themselves forever unable to call the names of their offspring or experience the intense pleasure of embracing them in their arms with love.
And as the so-called most powerful country in the world, America should be ashamed — from sea to shining sea.
Organizers who set up the “Monument For Our Kids,” held on Tuesday, March 13, say they used pairs of shoes from family members of victims, other American citizens and even some celebrities including Susan Sarandon and Bette Midler, placed squarely in the faces of our nation’s elected officials to serve as a sorely needed but routinely ignored call for gun control.
Later Tuesday afternoon, the memorial was dismantled, and the shoes packed and prepared for shipping — donations for those fortunate enough to still be alive and in need of shoes.
The memorial comes nearly one month since 17 people (twenty children and six adults) were killed in yet another massacre at Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, FL.
One father, Tom Mauser, traveled to D.C. and joined others on the Capitol lawn wearing a pair of gray Vans sneakers — the same ones his 15-year-old son had on when he lost his life at the hands of two gunmen at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, along with a dozen others.
Mauser, 66, of Littleton, Colorado, said: “There’s nobody in those shoes; it’s like the emptiness in our hearts from gun violence.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1,300 people below the age of 18 are killed by gunfire in the U.S. each year. This statistic alone causes me grave concern. As one who survived the mean streets of both Detroit and Chicago, I have seen the carnage that gunfire causes, the devastation it evokes on families and the holes it leaves in the hearts and minds of those loved ones who must somehow reconcile themselves to the murder by gunfire of a child.
Fortunately, as a Motown Baby Boomer born and raised in the 1960s, I never had to worry about someone coming to my school and shooting me, my teachers or my friends just because they had the “right” to own and operate weapons. My only concerns were what we were having for lunch, whether that cute little girl on whom I had a crush would shake her tail feather at the dance after school and if we’d get a day off from school because of the snowstorm.
We lived without the concerns of our parents. We lived free to savor the sumptuous sensations of just being children. I want my two grandsons — a teenager just entering high school and “little man” who’s about to start kindergarten — to have the opportunity to journey along the same once-in-a-lifetime pathway that I was allowed to travel. Oftentimes, I became almost incensed when I realize that they, like my two children, now 28 and a few days shy of 24, have had their childhoods shaped in a post 9/11 America where mass shootings at schools, concerts and places of worship have become almost “normalized.”
Normal? America, the so-called leader of the free world, we should be ashamed. Even more, we should, as James Brown once said, end the madness that comes with “talking loud and saying nothing!”