Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer. (Photo/www.washingtoninformer.com)

By Denise Rolak Barnes

At 11:11 P.M. on July 16, Nyiah Courtney, a beautiful and smart 6-year-old girl, was struck by a gunman’s bullet in the course of a drive-by shooting at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and Malcolm X Avenue, S.E., in D.C. Her mother and father were among the two adult females and two adult males that also sustained gunshot wounds. 

All of the adults were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Nyiah was killed.

A $60,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the suspects responsible for Nyiah’s death was issued. The Washington Informer, a Black-owned newspaper headquartered just two blocks away from the fatal scene, offered an additional $5,000 contribution to the fund.

No amount of money, however, will bring Nyiah back. Meanwhile, street light poles ladened with balloons mark the place where Nyiah died. 

Each passing day, as men, women, and children pass the growing memorial, they hug each other and wipe away their tears as they reflect on the little girl they all knew who brought a ray of sunshine to one of the city’s most notorious street corners.

Nyiah’s death is not a singular occurrence. A Google search of “one-year-olds shot” in 2020 returned multiple victims. 

In Brooklyn, N.Y., one-year-old Davell Gardner Jr., was killed while sitting in his stroller by someone who fired gunshots across a park. 

In June of last year, a gunman killed 1-year-old Sincere Gaston and injured his mother in Chicago while driving home from the laundromat.

In Pittsburgh, three men involved in a shootout caused the death of one-year-old Zykier Young, who was struck in the head and died while sleeping in his crib. 

And, in D.C., one-year-old Carmelo Duncan was fatally shot while strapped in his car seat in the back of a vehicle driven by his father. Carmelo’s 8-year-old brother was seated next to him and witnessed his little brother’s untimely death. 

Nyiah, Davell, Sincere, Zykier, and Carmelo are representative of the increasing number of children between the ages of 0 to 11 years old killed by gun violence since 2020. 

The Gun Violence Archives, an online archive of nearly real-time gun violence data, reported 172 children who are newborns up to age 11 were killed by guns, in addition to 675 teens between the ages of 12 to 17, as of July 19, 2021.

The Children’s Defense Fund’s most recent report on the State of America’s Children 2020 reported that “Gun violence was the second leading cause of death for children and teens ages one to 19, and the leading cause for Black children and teens, claiming more child lives than cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, HIV/AIDS and opioids combined.” The report also stated that Black children and teens are four times more likely to be killed or injured with a gun than their white counterparts.

The CDF describes this as a “uniquely American phenomenon” that allows for the “relentless slaughter of children.”

Since the killing of George Floyd, legions of protestors have justifiably filled the streets in cities across America, declaring “Black Lives Matter.” Their demands to defund the police are being responded to by city leaders willing to reallocate funds to other agencies to address community needs. Still, the guns keep flowing into communities and into the hands of irresponsible gun users whose targets increasingly are children, Black children, whose lives should matter, too.

Federal, state, and local leaders are beyond identifying gun violence as a public health issue; they have declared it a public health crisis. Organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) lead the charge. Meanwhile, Congress won’t act on the cry to enact stricter gun laws. It tied the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) hands by restricting its ability to provide more significant research on the impact of gun ownership and its relationship to suicides and other gun-related deaths.

At a press conference on July 17, the day following Nyiah’s death, Mayor Muriel Bowser, along with D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee, III, stood with the local heads of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives told residents they were “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of the gun violence plaguing the Nation’s Capital. 

They described the perpetrators as “killers” with “wanton disrespect for human life, including the life of a child.”

“It is important that while we look for the killers of Nyiah, we also prevent the next murder, and that’s within our sphere of influence within our community,” Bowser said.

“Too many people are willing to use guns to solve conflicts. We all in the government are going to ask ourselves what more can we do, what different programs can we offer, but at the end of the day, we’re all going to have to exercise some community responsibility for each other.”

That’s the definition of Black Lives Matter: exercising some responsibility for one another and ensuring our priority includes the care and protection of Black children. 

Denise Rolark Barnes is the publisher of The Washington Informer. She’s also the second-generation owner of the news organization.

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