The phrase came fast after the death of Shamiya Adams: turning point.
A sweet 11-year-old child at a sleepover making s'mores with friends. A stray bullet fired from the violence-plagued streets of Chicago's West Side. An innocent snuffed out in an instant.
This has to be the turning point. People said as much at a Sunday vigil for Shamiya. This will be the moment — the shocking, horrifying moment — that prompts change.
It won't be. Turning points, I hate to say, are fairy tales, stories we tell ourselves to give meaning to the senseless tragedies that bubble up from issues we've too long ignored.
Shamiya's death is a tragedy, no doubt, but it won't be a turning point for Chicago. The death of 14-year-old Rey Dorantes in 2013 wasn't a turning point. The 2012 deaths of 7-year-old Heaven Sutton and 6-year-old Aliyah Shell weren't turning points either.
They're just points. Points we should never have reached in the first place.
Consider the Malaysian airliner shot down over eastern Ukraine. The Associated Press reported that the crash "is being viewed as a potential turning point in the conflict" between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told The Wall Street Journal: "In my assessment, this is really a turning point."
Even if this does ease the fighting — which is unlikely — consider the cost. Should peace require the downing of a passenger plane?
Look at the violence in Gaza City. The BBC reported Sunday that the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, "which has caused heavy civilian casualties and the deaths of some 13 Israeli soldiers, could mark a turning point in this crisis." By late Tuesday, more than two dozen Israelis had been killed, and the Palestinian death toll was over 500. How many turning points has this decades-long conflict had?
Back in the United States, the Orange County Register reported that images of protesters in Murrieta, Calif., "turning back three buses filled with Central American migrants is being viewed as a turning point by supporters and opponents of more stringent immigration laws." Yet there has been virtually no movement on any form of immigration reform.
In January 2013, one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., Tom Bittman, co-founder of a group called Sandy Hook Promise, said: "We refuse to be remembered only for our loss. We want the shooting to be remembered as a turning point." But the shootings, and the deaths, continue.
Shamiya Adams here in Chicago just happens to be the latest.
Joy McCormack's son, Frankie Valencia, a 21-year-old DePaul University honors student, was shot and killed in Humboldt Park in 2009. McCormack was at the vigil for Shamiya and told a Tribune reporter: "I thought my child's death wouldn't be in vain — something would change. And yet here we are — again and again and again."
Whether it's violence in our city, wars in other countries or humanitarian crises along our borders, we have to stop imagining turning points. They're little more than signposts telling us we've gone too far.
They provide opportunities for outcry, for political demagoguery, for fiery Facebook posts about how (INSERT NAME OF ATROCITY HERE) MUST STOP!! But turning points, as evidenced above, are notoriously bad at actually being the point around which things turn for the better.
Shamiya's death should never have happened. It did, and now people will rally and shout and pray that her death will mark the moment that we came to our senses, the moment that everything changed for the better.
But what I fear is that those shouts and prayers will fade just as the shouts and prayers of past vigils have, and all of us — except those whose child is gone — will return to normal and await the next turning point.
If we want to protect children in our city, if we want to secure our borders while continuing our heritage as a nation that welcomes immigrants, if we want to halt school shootings or see peace in far-off lands, we can't wait for the horror of one act to call us to action. Change requires a constant drumbeat.
It requires calls and emails to lawmakers, support for legislation that rights what you see as wrong, a continuous hand stretched out into communities in turmoil, mentoring, donating, advocating. It requires presence and a relentless will to turn things around, preferably before something tragic happens.
Shamiya's death isn't a turning point, it's a wretched symptom of a problem this city has never addressed in full.
There is meaning in this loss — a loss we all should feel, as she was a child of this city — but if we rise up in the wake of her death then retreat until the next child falls, we do her the same disservice we've done every other young soul gunned down.
Don't let Shamiya's death be a "turning point." Let it be a lesson that shows us we don't need fairy tales. A lesson that shows us we need to get real.