As Gun Deaths Rise Across The US, Charleston, W.Va. Councilwoman Honors Those Lost To Gun Violence
A recent analysis of data from the Washington Post shows the average number of gun deaths per day is 14 people higher than it was in the last six months of 2020. That was the deadliest year yet for gun violence in America. The report was published not long after the City of Charleston experienced its deadliest month for gun violence in decades.
In April of this year, there were five gun deaths in Charleston within a span of 18 days. According to a report from the city, that’s the highest number of gun deaths in a single month in more than 20 years.
Last week at Haddad Riverfront Park, Charleston City Councilwoman Deanna McKinney held a vigil honoring victims of gun violence in the city. McKinney and volunteers set up oversized pictures of the victims in front of the amphitheater’s stage. The pictures showed their faces, their names and the day they were killed.
McKinney has held this event every year since 2014. That’s when her own son, Tymel McKinney, was shot while eating pizza on her front porch. She said gun violence has only gotten worse since he was killed.
“We're not having any discussions about it. After the funeral, there's not a mention of it again. I think that's the problem we forget. And, that's why I have pictures out here with names and the date; so we don't forget,” McKinney said.
India Frith is McKinney’s niece and volunteered at the event. Frith said she recognized a lot of the faces in the pictures in front of the stage.
“I lost my cousin Tymel, my god-sister Chastanay Joseph. I lost some friends I went to school with — Treykwon Gibson, Nathaniel Spivey,” Frith said.
Frith, who’s 20, says in her short life, she’s already been to several funerals for young people who have been killed by guns in the city. She added it’s one of the reasons she plans on leaving the state.
“I plan on moving out of West Virginia to not stay here, because you know, the memories here, the people that I've lost,” she said.
She said she wishes she could’ve had a normal childhood. As a kid, she rarely went outside to play. To this day, she has to vet potential friends before deciding weather or not to hang out with them.
“I watch who's around me. Because, you hear some of these stories about like, you know, one of them was killed by some of his friends,” Firth said. “I feel like I have to keep looking over my shoulder. I'll be like, ‘I think it's best that we not, hang out or be friends like that.’”
The stress of worrying about getting shot weighs heavy on a lot of young people according to Colleen Moran. Moran is a child psychologist for Harmony Health in Charleston.
“For most of us, it would be a once in a lifetime event. For these kids, they expect to hear [gunshots] nightly,” Moran said. “There are kids that come into therapy and you say, ‘So tell me some good things that are going on.’ And, the child looks at you and says, ‘We didn't hear any gunshots last night.’”
Moran worked on Charleston’s West Side as a psychologist at Mary C. Snow, a majority Black elementary school. She said the fear of gun violence is especially strong there.
“There was one individual with whom I worked, who was having a very difficult day at school that day,” she said. “So, they brought the child to me. Come to find out that the child had been up most of the night because the house that they were staying in, had been shot at for the third time. That kind of fear, that kind of experience, that kind of trauma is extremely difficult for children to deal with, because they never feel safe in the one place that they ought to feel the safest––their home.”
Moran added that it’s not unusual for people living in constant fear of gun violence to seem emotionless or even detached when describing what they’ve experienced.
“That's self preservation. Because, if you fully felt the loss and the impact of every single victim of gun violence, you would not be able to function,” Moran said.
As for the event, very few people turned out to remember those whose faces lined the stage. There were more pictures of victims than people in the crowd. McKinney said she was disappointed in the turnout.
“It's really hard, especially with a community where you don't participate, you don't get involved,” McKinney said. “It shouldn't take you to lose someone to get involved. Or, when you lose someone you're looking for all the support and all these people rally around you. We are supposed to be there for each other at all times.”