She had just moved into town six months ago. A new start. A new beginning at a new school. Her first grade class embraced her like one of their own. Her hair was braided for a planned trip to Disney World that her mother promised would take place in one month's time. She knew exactly what rides she was going to go on. Exactly what characters she wanted to take a picture with. Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck. Goofy. The Little Mermaid. She wanted to meet them all. But she would never make it on her dream vacation. One bullet to the chest and seven year old Heaven Sutton was dead.
Only a few miles away, another mother wailed and wailed and wailed, "She didn't deserve this . . . A person with a heart would never do this." She couldn't stop crying, screaming, at the top of her lungs. Screaming so loud that finally her screams became just sounds. Her daughter's Minnie Mouse blanket was all that remained after the paramedic's took away the body. Two shots to the abdomen was all that it took to take her life away, although she fought to the bitter end, holding onto her last breath as she arrived at the hospital. Her older sister, who luckily survived the shooting, heard the gunshots, but thought they were "fireworks." Six year old Aaliyah Shell was just one of thirty-nine people that were shot that weekend in Chicago.
On Friday morning, December 14th, these two little angels greeted twenty new angels at the pearly white gates of heaven. Between 9:35AM and 9:53AM, one by one, twenty first-graders from Sandy Hook Elementary School met Heaven and Aaliyah for the first time. They spoke of Disney World and the New York Giants. They spoke of their mother's and teacher's attempts to save their lives. They spoke of their friends and family members who had survived the onslaught of bullets. They spoke of the crowns that lay upon their heads as the Princes and Princesses had come home.
Our nation has been brought to its knees with the tragic deaths of Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin and Allison. Our country's tears still weep over the heroism of their teachers and faculty who did all in their mighty power to protect them from gunfire. But as the prayers and condolences slowly fade away, it will be a test of our moral character, as a people, to do everything in our power to make sure our children never meet a bullet again.
In a recent poll, taken after the shootings in Newtown, only 54 percent of Americans believe in tougher gun control laws. Although this is the highest this number has been at in over a decade, it is still shockingly low. Knowing that Americans own more guns than any other country in the world, our leaders in Congress have been slow to respond to the mass shooting, many of whom remaining quiet in fear of losing their $2000 contribution from the National Rifle Association. This past Sunday, ALL thirty-one pro-gun Republican Senators refused invitations to speak on 'Meet The Press,' not even offering the safe sound-bite, "my prayers go out to the families." President Obama has been compassionately vocal in his prayers and has shown a great desire to act swiftly, however it remains to be seen if he can even get the support from his own party to get anything done.
In the wake of the political cowardliness by most in Washington and with many Americans still clinging to their right to own weapons that are used on the battlefields of war and in first grade classrooms, it will take a different approach to end this madness. It will take a different approach from stopping 35 Americans from being killed by a gun everyday and from stopping 48,000 Americans from being killed by a gun over the next four years. And it will take the leadership from our generation to make it happen. Although more gun control is needed, we also must look at contributing factors that have created such a culture of violence. I propose the following:
- Re-Instate the Assault Weapons Ban of 1993 (including the banning of high capacity magazines - over 10 rounds).
- Pass the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would close the private-sale loophole that allows more than 40 percent of gun sales to go through without a background check.
- End the "War on Drugs": For forty years, we have waged war against our own people (blacks and Latinos), creating a school to prison pipeline that has destroyed the fabric of inner-city communities. (sidenote: end police tactics like "Stop and Frisk" that assume that our young people are criminals before they commit any crime.)
- Adequately fund mental health services and research.
- Support and fund violence intervention programs in urban areas, i.e. I Love My Life, Cease Fire, Man Up.
- Pass The Youth PROMISE Act: a bill introduced by Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would fund holistic approaches to the problems of communities in struggle.
- Create dialogue with entertainment leaders about the glamorization of violence in our films, music and video games.
In 2008, our generation learned how to vote. In 2012, our generation learned that our vote matters. And now, we must learn how to use our vote. Just six weeks ago, we were credited for helping usher in a new America. An America that is more generous, compassionate and tolerant. Now, we must usher in an America that will no longer be afraid to stand up to big corporate interests and lobbyists like the NRA. We must use our vote to make politicians protect our generation...our little brothers and sisters and our children.
Six year old and seven year old children are not suppose to meet in heaven. They are not suppose to witness the suffering of their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Whether they are shot in drive-bys in Chicago or in school shootings in Connecticut, six and seven year old children are not suppose to die young. If this time is really different, we will build more playgrounds in schoolyards and no more playgrounds in the sky.
[Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik.]