Hexham Book Festival: Gary Younge

Gary Younge presents a moving exploration of the lives and deaths of 10 young people who were killed by guns on one day in the US.

Hexham Book Festival: Gary Younge

On average, seven children and teenagers are killed by guns in the US everyday. On the (slightly) random day that Gary Younge chose to write about in his book, this figure was 10. He explains it wasn't completely random because statistically most of these incidents occur on weekends, so it made sense to choose a random weekend day.

The children killed on that day range from 9-19 years old. One was Hispanic, two were white and seven were black. On average two are female but on this day all were male. However, Younge's purpose wasn't to create a polemic or manifesto based on horrifying statistics - there are plenty of those already. He wanted to tell the stories of these children, and conducted what could only have been very difficult and harrowing research, speaking to the parents, families and friends of those who died, attending funeral homes, researching their Facebook pages, and even accessing the 911 calls.

The day was 23rd November 2013, between the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the gunman George Zimmerman's trial, and during the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The book is set against a backdrop of huge anger and protest around such police shootings, although none of the stories Younge covers were police shootings themselves.

None of the crimes that day were explicitly racially motivated either. There were a range - from domestic revenge and gang shootings to accidents or pranks gone wrong. Some of the situations are so ridiculous that the audience can't help but laugh - however this is what makes it so tragic, that something so silly can be the cause of a death.

While none of the shootings were deliberately targeting race, there is no doubt that there is a higher prevalence of black victims, and this is down to any number of socio-economic factors and the fact that there is still large amounts of unofficial segregation in the US. However, for Younge the one thing that is the problems, that could stop these unnecessary deaths is guns themselves.

However, he describes how his experience as a black Brit in the US, which is extensive as he reported there for years, and his wife and kids are American, is that Americans have such a strong culture around defending themselves, and their Second Amendment right to bear arms, that these incidents are expected, even by the parents. The blame never falls on the use of the weapons but on everything from bad parenting to drugs and teenage pregnancy. An article written about Samuel Brightmon for example falls into blaming the victim - suggesting the trope of feral children and negligent parents. Younge points out that 16 year old Samuel wasn't out that night. He was having a family night, with a visiting friend and went to walk him to his Gran's where he was staying for the night before they attended church the next morning. That's when he got shot. The worst thing he did that night, Young says, was cheat at Uno.

Listening to these stories was harrowing. It must have been incredibly difficult for Younge to tell them. But for him they are important stories to tell. He reminds us that just this weekend, an average of another 14 kids will have been shot. But we can't simply reduce them to numbers, we have to tell their whole stories. And this is what he asked the families, saying 'I know how your son died, but I want to know how they lived.'


Ellen Orange

Ellen Orange Contributor

I am a 24 year old Marketing Officer from the North East with a passion for arts and writing. I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in Twentieth and Twenty First Century Literature at Durham University, because I love books and reading! I have experience in writing for a variety of student publications, as well as having contributed to Living North, a regional magazine and Culture magazine, a supplement to regional newspaper, The Journal. I have been part of a Young Journalists scheme writing for NewcastleGateshead's Juice Festival, a young people's arts and culture festival, and have since become a Team Juice member. As well as reading and writing, I love theatre, photography and crafts.

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  • Luke Taylor

    On 10 May 2017, 09:59 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    It's horrible that children and young people are exposed to gun violence at such a young age...especially when it kills them.

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