“I Can’t Breathe”
It’s a plea you all know. “I can’t breathe.” It’s the final cry 46-year-old George Floyd gasped before he was murdered by a policeman on May 25th. These words, rightfully, have burned themselves into the minds of millions around the nation.
But have we also considered the cry of little three-year-old Mehki James, “It hurts! It hurts!”? Innocent Mehki was one of the victims who died on Father’s Day weekend when a bullet struck him in the chest and killed him.
Did you hear eight-year-old Secoriea Turner cry out in pain for her mother when a neighbor opened fire and killed her? Did you hear the sobs of Natalie Wallace’s grandmother, as she held the body of her 7-year-old granddaughter lying dead in her backyard?
Did you hear 11-year-old Davon McNeal’s body hit the concrete when he was gunned down outside his aunt’s house?
Perhaps we are all asking the same question Davon’s grandmother asks: “When they catch these guys, I would like the opportunity just to ask one of them, why?” Why indeed? Yes, it has been too difficult to separate out the differences in legitimate, passionate protest, rioting, sheer anarchy, and random violence over these last few weeks. But the parents and loved ones of these children know this for sure: Things have gone too far. We must be able to fight for needed change and not have our babies die in the process.
After exhaustive Google searches, I’ve found brief, scattered news reports on the deaths of these children. But I have yet to find a compilation that gathers and truly tells these children’s stories as remembrance, reminding all of us of their sacrifice. Certainly we can tell the stories of other victims of racial injustice without diminishing the memory of any.
Lawrence Jones, the father of 7-year-old Natalie Wallace who was shot and killed on July 4, expressed his frustration with why some stories are told with attention they deserve, but not others. He says, “The fact that there is not outrage universally when both things happen ticks me off because both of the lives matter. But it seems that in a time like this, both sides can choose which stories they want to cover.”
What of Natalie’s story and her dad’s question? Why has no one told the sad, painful, collective story of black and brown children dying in the midst of all this angry violence? It is not told in the New York Times. Not the Washington Post. Not any major magazine that I have found. If they will not, I would like to share the stories of ten of these children whose lives were brutally cut short, in a span of 35 days – May 31-July 4 – for no reason at all. Here are their stories.
My name is Natalie Wallace.
I am seven years old, and my favorite person in the whole world is Grandma.
I am a big girl now, because I just finished first grade. I love art and math, and I always tell my friends “I love you!” at the end of every school day. Today I am at Grandma’s house because it is the 4th of July, and we are having a big celebration with fireworks and yummy food. Daddy drops me off at the house, and I immediately run outside to play with my cousins.
Suddenly, I hear gunshots. The next moment, a bullet enters my forehead. Bright, hot pain and absolute terror are my final memories.
My name is Mekhi James.
I am three years old, and my step daddy just took me out to get my first “big guy” haircut. I didn’t know it would also be my last “big guy” haircut.
I won’t get to go to school this fall, or play outside, or see my mom ever again. My life was taken from me. I don’t know why. What did I do wrong?
Daddy and I were driving home when a car pulled up beside ours and someone started shooting. I was shot in the back and cried out “it hurts! It hurts!”, but daddy couldn’t help me. He tried. He couldn’t stop the pain; he couldn’t stop the blood. He couldn’t save me. I had never seen daddy cry before, but his tears fell all across my face. I died in his arms.
My name is Secoriea Turner.
My mom is my best friend. We dance together, I tell her all about school, and I always have a kiss and a hug for her. I have two older brothers who mommy says will always protect me, and they like to call me SeSe.
My birthday is on November 29, and I will be 9 years old this year. I like to post TikTok videos with my mom. I told her that I want to be a nurse when I grow up because whenever I see sad people, I want to make them happy.
Today my mom and I are driving to my cousin’s house because it is the 4th of July, and we want to play.
I don’t know why, but suddenly people started shooting at our car. It was at a Wendy’s in my neighborhood where a man with my same skin color had been shot by a police officer a few days earlier. I was hit and cried out in pain, reaching for my mom. She held me and rocked me, her voice soothing like when she used to sing me to sleep at night. The people at the hospital couldn’t save me.
My name is Amaria Jones.
I love to dance. I post music videos on TikTok, and my mom always says I’m her little star. Sometimes, during basketball practice, I show off my dance moves. My favorite color is purple.
I am 13 years old, and I want to be a lawyer someday. Today, I am in my house in South Austin, Chicago. I’m showing mom a new dance move of mine.
Her smile is the last thing I see before a bullet smashes through our window and pierces my slender neck. I can feel the blood run hotly down my neck, and I hear her scream. Then, everything goes dark.
My name is Davon McNeal.
I am eleven years old. I like to play football, and my older brother often plays with me. I told mommy that I was going to be in the NFL when I grew up. Yesterday I told her, “When I make it, I’m going to buy you the biggest house I can find.”
I play video games with my friends and brothers. I always love going on vacation with my family. We go to Ocean City, Florida, and New Jersey.
My family has always called Anacostia, D.C home. Today, I am at a community cook out to celebrate the 4th of July. Mom brought us all together today. She loves this holiday, the celebration of our nation and our freedom. She loves the people here.
My phone died, it’s always doing that. So I jumped in the car with my mom to head over to my aunt’s house to get a charger. I never saw my aunt that night. I stepped out of the car, and someone shot at me. The bullet hit me in the head.
My name is Lena Nunez Anaya.
My stepdad likes to call me “sweet little girl,” because I’m always so happy. I am always smiling.
I love everything about life, but school especially. This year I will be in the 5th grade, and my favorite subjects are reading and math. My stepdad gives me math problems to do, and I always plead, “Can you make some more problems for me?” He always does.
I like walking with my cousins and playing in the pool with my little siblings. I also like watching dance videos on TikTok.
This evening I’m hanging out with my brother and Grandma, and we are watching TV. I hear loud voices and gunshots outside our house. I am scared, and I tell Grandma. The last thing I hear is the living room window smashing into fragments. A bullet fractures my skull. I stopped breathing. Just like Mr. Floyd.
My name is Sincere Gaston.
I’m just “Little Guy.” 20 months old. I hear that a lot.
I have three older siblings and a mommy and daddy.
I am driving home with mommy in her car today. A big car pulls up alongside us. The man looks really angry. He waves his gun and starts shooting at our car. I feel a sharp pain in my chest as a bullet smashes into me, and mommy screams. I die moments later.
My name is Vernado Jones Jr.
I love my hair. Ever since I could remember, it’s been huge and curly. My mom nicknamed me Samson because I reminded her of the guy in the bible whose hair made him strong.
I’m 14 years old today, and this is a very exciting year for me. I am going to attend Simeon Career Academy in the fall where I will play basketball. It’s my dream to play in the pros someday. My auntie tells me, “I’m waiting on my NBA tickets.”
Today I’m watching a fireworks show with my mom and a bunch of other excited kids in a parking lot.
The colorful and bright explosions lighting up my mom’s smile are the final things I’ll see.
A bullet strikes me in the back, shattering all my hopes and dreams.
My name is Royta Giles Jr.
I am eight years old, and I go to school at Jonesboro Elementary School. I like telling jokes because it makes me happy to hear people laugh.
I want to be a musician when I grow up. I also like fashion and video games. I watch over my little sisters and am the big brother who taught them how to pillow fight and jump over couches.
I am at the mall today with my sisters, Trinity and Marlee, and my mom. We are going to buy new outfits for the 4th of July.
That was the last day I spent with my family. Someone opened fire, and I found myself lying on the ground, with a bullet buried in my head. I don’t know what happened.
My name is Italia Kelly.
I am 22 years old. I am the oldest of five siblings, and I am closest with my 19-year-old sister, Jasmine.
I attended a protest in Davenport, Iowa because I believe in fighting for matters close to my heart. I want my voice to be heard. When the protest I attended became unruly, my sister, Jasmine, texted me that I should leave. She was right. I hopped into the car with my friends, but I never made it out. I was shot in the back by a fellow protester.
No, none of us were killed by a police officer. We were shot by our neighbors, by those who all want the same thing, a better life, more justice, greater equality, more opportunity. What about ours? Will anyone march for us?
None of our parents can find comfort in telling themselves we died for a just cause. There was nothing noble in how we died. They were senseless. We died just as Mr. Floyd died. Where is the outrage for us? Where is the compassion for our parents, our aunties, our uncles, our siblings, and our Nana and Pops? They have massive holes in their lives.
Say our names out loud. Remember our stories. Tell them to others. Stop the violence. Defend life.
Photo from Shutterstock
Anne Ziegler studies English and music at Hillsdale College, and she’s serving this summer as an intern for Focus on the Family’s Parenting department. You can usually catch her baking bread, reading fantasy novels, or practicing some Rachmaninov and Chopin on her piano, George.