On Nov. 23, 2013, 10 kids between the ages of 9 and 19, in places ranging from Houston to Charlotte, N.C., to our despairing, ever-in-mourning Chiraq, died of gunshot wounds. Seven of them were black, three Hispanic and one white. They died in circumstances ranging from a gang retaliation to a hunting accident to the worst kind of home invasion: a random bullet flying through a window and into the head of the young victim.
Had Gary Younge chosen to write about one of those killings, or two, the emotional payoff of his uncomfortably titled "Another Day in the Death of America" would be powerful enough. Take the death of 9-year-old Jaiden Dixon, who after responding to the doorbell in his home in Grove City, Ohio — a suburb of Columbus named "best hometown" in the central part of the state — was fatally shot in the head by the man who fathered his brother Jarid.
The shooter, who had a death wish, got it answered when, after driving to nearby Groveport to fatally shoot the long-estranged mother of his 18-year-old daughter, went down in a hail of bullets in a Wal-Mart parking lot in a case of "suicide by cop." Jaiden, a lover of animals and computer games who liked playing "glide" with his best friend Sidney — the game involved jumping off a platform with an open umbrella — would never get up to play it again.
Or take the death of 18-year-old Tyshon Anderson, who died in a four-story walkup on East 80th Street in South Chicago, around the corner from his home, when someone walked up to him on the stairway and shot him in the head. Described in a news report as a "typical teenager" and steeped in the gang life, Tyshon was just out from his latest stint in prison and, according to his grandfather, was "trying to get his life straightened out."
"The pathos in this account," writes Younge, "is in the assumption that had he been in prison he would still be alive."
An editor-at-large for the London-based Guardian newspaper and a columnist for the Nation whose previous books include "The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream," Younge called Chicago home from 2011-15 after spending time as the Guardian's New York correspondent.
One of the saddest aspects of "Another Day in the Death of America" is its lack of surprise. Even the revelation from a Lawndale woman speaking to the Tribune) that "even some of the dogs had ceased barking at the sound of gunfire" elicits little more than a half-raised eyebrow.
Chicago, and too many other cities, have become so numbed by the frequency of these killings — seven a day, reports Younge, and this dated statistic does not include the mass shootings that get most of the attention before inevitably fading from the mass consciousness — that many of them don't even get reported.
"Another Day in the Death of America" is not a book geared toward penetrating the walls of detachment and even indifference that everyday citizens build to deal (or not deal) with the violence. The walls that allow many people in starkly segregated Chicago, for example, to brush off reports of the latest tragedies in the kill zones where African-Americans and Hispanics are at such grave risk.
Younge's anecdotal style has a measured strength. A story about an ill-fated Indianapolis youth, told against the backdrop of the annual National Rifle Association convention in that city ("Nine Acres of Guns and Gear"), occasions a level discussion of gun control. The assassination of 18-year-old Pedro Cortez in San Jose, Calif., for daring to wear the wrong color shows how the epidemic of "senseless" killings afflicts communities of all ethnic colors.
The author's difficulty in finding and questioning relatives of the young shooting victims proves a stumbling block he can't always get past. "One should be cautious when drawing conclusions about people's characters from social media," he acknowledges, but Facebook "moments" play a sizable role in his accounts — nowhere more unsettling than in his telling of the shooting of 16-year-old Houston kid Edwin Rajo by his best friend, Camilla, a member of the Southwest Cholos gang.
She thought there were no bullets in her gun, her first, when she pointed it at Edwin, agreeing to his request to "make out like you're gonna shoot me." On the day after the tragedy, she posted, "life's a b---- i don't (want it) to end like this." There's not much that Younge, or anyone, with any amount of access, could add to that.
Lloyd Sachs is a freelance writer and the author of the new critical biography, "T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit."
'Another Day in the Death of America'
By Gary Younge, Nation, 267 pages, $25.99