On April 25, 2003, my nephew was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting.
It was two months after his 18th birthday and two months before his high school graduation. His name was Craig Demetrius Kirby, Jr., but our family called him Boo, a nickname bestowed on him because he had such beautiful big brown eyes that folks used to say he looked like someone had just scared him.
Boo was a great kid. He was truly loved by family and friends and classmates, and we all took his death hard, and personally.
Boo was looking forward to graduation and was in the process of determining what to do with his life—what colleges to apply to or whether to opt for enlistment in the service. He had survived his youth free of trouble. He was a good student; he wasn’t involved with drugs or alcohol, he didn’t belong to a gang, and he had not suffered any run-ins with the law.
For a young Black kid growing up in an urban area of the United States, that in itself was a significant accomplishment. At the time of his death, he lived with his father and step-mother in Hampton, Virginia, but was visiting his mother in Wilson, North Carolina, for spring break.
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While laughing and joking with a few friends on the walk home to his mother’s house from his cousin’s, shots suddenly rang out from a slowly passing car, and my nephew collapsed.
There was no argument, no disagreement. In fact, no words were exchanged. He did not know the perpetrators, nor they him. They were three young men in their early 20s with a callus disregard for human life who had only minutes earlier shot into another group of kids a few blocks away, striking one. Luckily, that child survived.
Boo’s sudden, untimely death did profound damage to our family. My brother, his father and namesake, went into a deep depression.
My brother had suffered more than his share of death. As the youngest in our family, he had been the only sibling home when our mother passed away a few years earlier and when our father suffered a cerebral hemorrhage years before that. But this was different. This was so unpredictable, so unexpected, and so entirely preventable.
It’s one thing to bury your parents. It’s quite another to bury your child.
Since Boo’s death, my entire family has developed a strong aversion to guns. Every time I read or hear about another young person’s life being cut short by gun violence, I live Boo’s death all over again.
When those young children in Newtown, Connecticut, were killed, I couldn’t stop crying. After a week of sobbing uncontrollably at the thought of how frightened those kids must have been and how their parents must be suffering as we did, as we still are, I knew that I had to do something to try to end this cycle of gun violence.
To be honest, I was angry with myself for not taking action sooner.
I started signing petitions, making small donations to groups focused on gun-control legislation, and rallying my friends and relatives to do the same.
I was invited to share my story by UltraViolet for a national campaign against gun violence. (See the video above.) While I’m usually not comfortable baring my emotions publicly, I knew the time had come. I was not sure that I could get through it without sobbing, but I had to try.
Gun culture has taken over the daily lives of many Americans. From the music industry to the movie industry, from the makers of computer games to the writers of television shows, we have been bombarded with the notion that guns and violence are somehow sexy. Men, especially, have been conditioned to see guns as an extension of their strength and their manhood.
The problem has gotten so bad that in many states it is now acceptable to carry guns into schools, churches, bars, and pizza restaurants. Subversive groups with fully stocked weaponry have been allowed to flourish.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, men even showed up at the political rallies openly carrying loaded guns! “Don’t retreat, reload” became an acceptable battle cry on the campaign trail.
The gun lobby has been rich and powerful and has ruled through fear and intimidation and political payoffs, and politicians have been reluctant to address the problem.
And as all this was happening, most of us sat by in silence.
But Newtown changed all that. People are finally starting to say, “Enough is enough.” We want this senseless violence to stop.
We demand that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Congress address these problems, and not stand down. We demand comprehensive gun control reform that includes but is not limited to:
- A ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines
- Universal background checks for all gun sales
- A ban on gun and gun part sales over the Internet
- A national gun buy-back program aimed at getting guns off the street
- An annual national report on deaths or injuries due to gun violence
- A law holding gun manufacturers, sellers, and owners liable for shootings
- A law restricting and providing harsh penalties for “straw” purchases
It is time for our legislators to take action. We must stand up as citizens and demand action. The time is now. We must remind them that we vote too, and that we will be monitoring their action or inaction on this critical issue.