Leonard Pitts: What kind of people are we, that we murder our own hope?

An open letter to the children: We owe you an apology.

(Shelly Yang | The Kansas City Star via AP) A gray car with multiple bullet holes was involved in a fatal shooting on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kansas City. Authorities have identified a child killed in a triple shooting in Kansas City as a 1-year-old boy, making him the city’s youngest homicide victim this year, police said. Tyron Payton was in the back seat of a car with three other adults when someone opened fire on their vehicle Monday afternoon, police said.

An open letter to the children.

We owe you an apology.

Meaning all of us in the generations above you. We had one job where you were concerned, and that was to keep you safe. “Save the children,” pleaded a man named Marvin Gaye a long time ago. But we didn’t. We failed.

And for that, I’m sorry. You deserved so much more.

I offer this apology in the names of more of you than there is space to list. It is in the name of Sherdavia Jenkins, who was 9 and Jacob Hall, who was 6. In the name of Katylin Bellamy, who was 2 and Rodriquez Ferguson, who was 4. In the name of Grace Audrey McDonnell, who was 7 and Carmelo Duncan who was 15 months.

And it is in the name of Elijah LaFrance, who was 3. Like everyone else on this list and thousands more who aren’t, he was shot to death. This happened Saturday night at his birthday party near Miami. Someone fired more than 60 rounds from what a witness said was an assault rifle.

Police are trying to figure out why someone would do such a thing and, of course, that’s their job. But the why is almost beside the point. There’s always a reason — somebody had a beef, or somebody hated life, or somebody couldn’t get a date — but it never helps us understand, never makes it make any sense.

Don’t get me wrong, we grieve when adults die like this, too — and Lord knows that happens far too often. But it is a special kind of awful when it happens to you, our children. You are our babies, the vessels of our hope. What kind of people are we, that we murder our own hope?

And here, someone will want me to mention abortion, a medical procedure mommies sometimes use to take the fetus — a fetus is what we call a human being before birth, while it is still developing into a baby — out of their tummies. That kills the fetus, which is why some people say abortion should be against the law. Many more disagree. The two sides debate over when, exactly, a fetus becomes a person — in other words, when it should be seen, and protected, as a child.

It’s an argument they’ve been having since I was your age. It’s one they’ll still be having when you are mine.

But here’s the thing: once you’re born, the argument is over. Once you’re born, no one can deny that you deserve to be seen — and protected — as a child. And that’s what we haven’t done.

You know, when I was a kid, if you fell off the monkey bars, you could skin your knee or even break a bone because the play yard was covered in concrete. Now that’s less likely because monkey bars are usually mounted over rubber tiles. We did that to protect you.

And yet, when it comes to the far more dangerous threat of guns, we’ve done almost nothing. That’s because some of us think guns should be easy to get, even if you’re a bad person, even if you’re mentally ill, even if you don’t know how to use one. In some places, they think you should have guns even if you’re blind. In others, the law actually requires you to own a gun.

We have more guns in this country than people. And more coming all the time.

Ultimately, that’s why Elijah is dead and why so many other kids are, too. Because we have done more to protect you from skinned knees than from bullet wounds. That says a lot about our priorities, none of it good. Oh, don’t get me wrong: You are our children, and we love you very much.

But obviously, we love guns even more.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com