A CHILD IS SHOT
August 3, 2017 – Guest Commentary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Barbara Finch
He was ten years old.
As this was being written last month, we didn’t know much about him. He lived in a public housing complex just south of downtown. He was inside the housing complex Sunday afternoon, July 23. That’s when, and where, he was shot in the head.
He was ten years old.
Does it really matter if this shooting was accidental, or deliberate? Does it matter if he, or a sibling, or a friend, was playing with a loaded, unlocked gun? Does it matter if he was caught in the cross-fire of some adult argument, or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?
At this point, the only thing that matters is that he is dead. He was shot in the head. And he was ten years old.
In a city where gun violence is becoming numbingly normal, this death probably won’t make much difference to most people. It garnered a few paragraphs in this newspaper, where reporters also described other incidents of gun violence in the housing complex where the boy lived. It may have been mentioned on television, where crime and violence often lead the news. Our media are saturated with stories of gun violence. Everyone agrees that “something should be done.” But as we discuss and debate and fume and fret, another child is dead. He was ten years old.
This particular death made a difference to members of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice. A few weeks ago they were invited by the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) to bring their Lock It For Love program to this housing complex. Lock It For Love provides education about gun violence to children and adults. Members of Women’s Voices tell parents that their children are safer in homes without guns. And, for those who have unsecured firearms and youngsters in their homes, they provide a gun lock, free of charge, no questions asked.
To be honest: members of the organization discussed whether they should participate in an event at this location. They knew that it is a high-crime area. The representative from SLATE who contacted them about the event mentioned that gun shots are frequently heard in the neighborhood. Gun locks, they reasoned, would be helpful.
Members of Women’s Voices decided they would go. After all, if children live there, they could spend a morning there. So they took their educational materials, their dish full of candy, their disabled demonstration firearms, their love of children, and boxes of gun locks to the community center in the housing complex. They were there for two hours. They gave away nine locks.
Just 29 hours later, on a beastly hot Sunday afternoon, a child was shot inside a home there.
He didn’t live long enough to become one of the 16 children in the U.S. who are hospitalized every day suffering from gunshot wounds.
He has joined the 19 children and teenagers who are shot every day in America.
To most of us he is now a statistic: one of the mounting number of American children killed by firearms every year. Victim of an event that was entirely preventable with the use of a $5 gun lock.
To a few people, this child is more than a statistic. He was a son, a grandson, a brother, a neighbor, a classmate.
He should have been everyone’s child, the child of a caring community.
He was only ten years old.
Barbara L. Finch lives in Clayton and is a member of the Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice Campaign for Common-Sense Gun Solutions. During the past two years, the organization has distributed nearly 2,000 gun locks throughout the St. Louis area.
Put Trigger Warnings In Their Proper Place: On Actual Triggers
April 13, 2017 in The Occasional Planet – Barbara Finch
I’m sure that the college students and mental health professionals who have been leading the effort to impose trigger warnings on textbooks and reading assignments do not realize it, but they could be at the forefront of a massive public safety campaign.
For the uninitiated: Trigger warnings on books are designed to protect readers from harmful content or ideas that might contribute to pre-existing mental health conditions.They are controversial in higher education circles. Some colleges and universities say that reading assignments should stand on their own, and they are not supposed to coddle students; others say that they are trying to be sensitive to their students’ issues and that readers deserve a warning if something is likely to cause a panic attack or contribute to PTSD.
Well, here’s an idea and it doesn’t require a pesky reading assignment: how about trigger warnings where they really belong: on real triggers, on actual guns.
Americans have been spectacularly unsuccessful in legislating almost any kind of gun control. Maybe we should narrow our sights, so to speak. Maybe we could focus on trigger control.
In truth, it would be possible to do this tomorrow if the NRA (Normally Recalcitrant Assholes) got out of the way. Technology exists that would enable gun manufacturers to produce “smart guns”—weapons that could not be fired unless the fingerprint of the legitimate owner was putting pressure on the trigger. This would not solve the problem created when the gun owner goes ballistic and decides to invade a classroom, but it would certainly solve the trigger problem when a child obtains a gun or the firearm is stolen.
The idea of a smart gun seems especially relevant now, when the NRA (see above) and many Republican-controlled state legislatures are attempting to legalize guns on college campuses. What could possibly go wrong with this idea? Perhaps nothing.
Let’s put a trigger warning on every door and hope that the guns are smarter than the people who carry them.
Seeing the faces and knowing the lives of gun violence victims
April 13, 2017 in The Occasional Planet – Mary Clemons
Why do I know this? As a member of the Common-Sense Gun Solutions Committee for Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, I monitor the on-line Gun Violence Archive to report on the number of people who have died as the result of gun violence. I learn their names. I find their photos. I gather information on their lives. Where did they go to school? Where did they work? What impact did they have on their friends, family and co-workers?
Women’s Voices is more widely known in the community as an organization that attends community health fairs to distribute gun safety information and gun locks to families with unsecured firearms in their homes. And that is a good thing; more than 1,500 locks are now with St. Louis area families. But we do more. We advocate for gun violence prevention.
When our elected officials and the public read a crime report that a 25-year-old woman was shot to death in Columbia, or that a 12-year-old in Otterville was killed by a bullet to his head, they may skim the article and move on. But if they see a photo of the proud, smiling young woman in her Hardee’s uniform and learn she had worked her way into a management position and leaves behind two young children; or if they learn the boy from Otterville played summer baseball, loved the outdoors and dinosaurs, they may take a few more moments and ask themselves: why did this happen, and how could it have been prevented?
When we read one day that a six-year-old killed herself with a gun left loaded and unlocked, but we never learn where she went to school or see a photo, how can we have any empathy for her grieving family? When a 15-year-old is shot down in a blaze of bullets and an eight-year-old is critically wounded, and the following day the story is dropped, what are we to understand?
Has gun violence become so common that just reporting when and where it happens and giving the number of dead and injured is enough?
We believe readers need and deserve more. We believe in vigils where people remember the victims. We believe in marches with posters of those lost. We believe the lives of the victims matter and their stories should matter to all of us.
If the print news media would give us a glimpse into their lives, tell us their stories, perhaps more of us will work to end the violence.
If we loved our children as much as our guns
April 12, 2017
The St. Louis American published the following commentary by Barbara Finch
What more can be said about children dying from gun violence in St. Louis?
We’re only three months into 2017 and already four children have been killed in the city this year. Others have been wounded, critically injured, or severely traumatized by violence generated by gunfire.
On Friday, March 24, as people were preparing dinner or shopping for the weekend or getting ready to go out, gunfire erupted (again) in North St. Louis. A 15-year-old boy was killed. An 8-year-old boy was critically injured. Five other people were severely wounded and taken to area hospitals.
In describing the mayhem, St. Louis Police Lt. John Green was quoted as saying, “We don’t know what caused the shooting.”
Really? Lt. Green may not know the cause, but other people may be a little more discerning. The cause of the shooting was a gun.
Is it so hard to figure out that, if a gun had not been involved, seven people would not have been taken from the scene in ambulances?
And does it really matter if there was an old grudge, perceived slight, debt, family feud, simple misunderstanding or long-standing vendetta? Without the gun, the problem may have been solved, or not. But life would have gone on. When guns are used to solve problems, life does not go on, not for the victim.
In St. Louis we are now witnessing the way that a gun at hand alters the chemistry of ordinary life. People are afraid of gun violence; therefore, they purchase firearms, which only increases their chances of becoming a victim. When a gun is within easy reach, a slight miscalculation or simple disagreement can quickly turn into a tragedy.
What we are now seeing is a civilian arms race, being played out in homes, offices, neighborhoods and public spaces throughout our community. Who benefits? Follow the money, from the guy who steals the gun from the car brought in from the suburbs, to the gun show dealer who sold the gun to the guy without a background check, to the firearms manufacturer whose stock price is rising monthly, to the National Rifle Association.
We know the cause of the shootings. So what are we going to do about it?
A look at New York City might provide some answers. According to a recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal co-authored by the New York City police commissioner and the Manhattan district attorney, New York has accounted for 25 percent of the decline in homicides nationally since 1990. During the last 15 years, murders in the city fell by 84 percent and shootings by 81 percent. The officials said there has been no comparable decline in gun crime anywhere else in the U.S.
So how did New York do it? According to the authors, “by enforcing some of the strongest gun laws in the country.”
This is unlikely to happen in St. Louis. Missouri has some of the loosest gun laws in the country, and the state pre-emption law prevents cities from enacting laws that are stronger than state statues. But at least the New York experience gives us a clue about what could be done, if only we valued the lives of our children, who are now afraid to play outside on warm spring evenings.
Barbara L. Finch is a co-founder of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice and a member of the group’s Campaign for Common-Sense Gun Solutions, which sponsors “Lock It For Love,” a free gun lock distribution effort. For information about Lock It For Love events, email
The Names of the Dead Matter
February 15, 2017
The St. Louis American published the following commentary by Barbara Finch
Names are important.
Names are the first gifts that parents give their children. Names, chiseled in granite headstones, may be the last gift that children give their parents.
When names are grouped together, they can make a powerful statement. Maya Lin’s incredible Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., gets its impact from the list of names inscribed on its face. The memorial to victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York City has the same effect. Even if we didn’t know any of these people, we run our fingers over their names and remember that they lived, and how they died.
Members of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, a local grassroots education and advocacy organization, recognize the powerful impact of naming those who have been lost. That’s why the group has attempted to document the names of every individual in St. Louis city and county who was a victim of gun violence during 2016. This list, which has been carefully researched and compiled, was extracted from real-time data published online by the Gun Violence Archive.
The archive was established in 2013 to provide free online public access to accurate information about gun-related violence in the United States. Firearm violence and crime incidents are collected and validated from 2,000 sources daily.
Early in December, members of Women’s Voices began to compile the local list to post online as a “virtual vigil,” to coincide with vigils across the country on December 14, the 4th anniversary of the massacre of students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The list, now complete for 2016, includes victims of accidental shootings, homicides and suicides. It contains 242 names and can be seen online at remember-the-victims.
Clicking on the list of names gives viewers the ages and dates of death of local gun violence victims; there also are short stories and photos of a representative sample of our neighbors.
We see 14-year-old Jamyha Luss pictured on her knees, hands folded, as if in prayer. We learn that Jose Garcia was a gift-bearer when Pope John Paul visited St. Louis in 1999. We note that 15-year-old Jorevis Scruggs was shot by police, and Police Officer Blake Snyder was shot while responding to a disturbance call. We learn that Joseph Reise was killed by his son, and 8-month-old Reign Crockett was killed by his father. We note that 15-year-old DaMontez Jones was able to obtain a loaded, unlocked gun in his home. And we mourn that Jamarr Mack Jr. 14, was killed while walking home from the library.
These names matter. These lives mattered, and how they died should matter to all of us.
One person who was personally impacted by the list is LaMena A. Smith of Conyers, Georgia. She wrote to Women’s Voices: “I am Rolando L. Bolden’s Mom. I want to personally thank you for bringing awareness online to this horrible violence that has to stop. The worst day of my life was December 3, 2016.”
December 3 was the day that her 23-year-old son was murdered while trying to help a woman who was being attacked. “He was standing up for her to save her life, and in return he lost his life,” Smith said.
The season of vigils for victims of gun violence is now over, including the annual New Year’s Eve candlelight vigil at Willliams Temple Church of God in Christ, which has hosted an event for 24 years. At the most recent event, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson was quoted as saying, “Even one murder is too many.”
Members of Women’s Voices agree: Even one name is too many. But because 2016 brought 242 victims, their names and their stories will remain on the web site. Because these names mattered. So did their owners.
Barbara L. Finch is a co-founder of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice (www.womensvoicesraised.org) and a member of the Campaign for Common-Sense Gun Solutions.
Member Marilyn Sue Warren Remarks on Cooperation at Vote Count
So I followed my yellow brick road to Baraboo, WI yesterday to take part in the recount. As someone who has been a poll worker for 10 years , it feels very familiar. Like much of democracy it is quiet and prone to details. And the part I love best is cooperation. Just like in the polling places in St Louis everything is bipartisan. The counters look and count everything together– cause together is better. My job is to watch as they do their job. Here it is like watching paint dry. And this. Is a good thing. No drama – no hanging chads; just republicans and democrats working side by side cooperating and when there is a glitch discussing it calmly in a problem solving way not in a blaming or gotcha way. I love this! Wish in all areas this could be true.
Speaking While Female and at a Disadvantage
Women’s Voices provides a platform and multiple ways for women to speak out and make their voices heard. Click here for a New York Times editorial on how women’s voices are often underrepresented in public affairs.
President Obama Responds to letter from Mary Clemons, Urging us to Continue Raising Our Voices
Mary Clemons, past president of Women’s Voices, wrote President Obama on July 10, 2016 following the shooting of the police officers in Dallas. Read her letter below, and see President Obama’s response.
July 10, 2016
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
I fervently wish I could believe as you do that the country “isn’t as divided as some have suggested.” But as I approach my 76th birthday I have never been more discouraged about the hardening lines polarizing our nation and our communities. And though discouragement hasn’t kept me down in the past, it is taking its toll.
As the past president of a growing social justice organization, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, now in its 11th year, I have taken pride in our work to educate and advocate for issues you care about. Health care for all was our motto before Obama Care became a reality. And in the effort to pass the Affordable Care Act you spoke about our member Melanie Shouse who worked tirelessly for your campaign and who inspired us and you by her voice to bring about change while losing her battle with stage 4 breast cancer. http://womensvoicesraised.org/melanie-shouse/. Women’s Voices celebrated the passage of Obama Care and marched on, literally and figuratively, to see that all in Missouri received health care by expanding Medicaid. To date, the harsh voices of our intransigent legislators speak louder than ours.
After the massacre at Newtown our Women’s Voices members spoke up on behalf of common-sense gun legislation for our nation and for our state. And while our Missouri state legislators shout down all efforts to curb the proliferation of guns and loosen the gun laws, we moved to a different tactic to talk about gun violence as a public health issue. We had public forums, including one with a speaker from the CDC, we partnered with Washington University on their public health efforts, and we created a program to protect children from unsecured guns in the home. Our “Lock It For Love” initiative has garnered media attention and has the support of our St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The Deaconess Foundation and others have provided the funds to purchase the gun locks we give away at neighborhood health fairs where we talk about gun safety and demonstrate how to use the cable locks. We have even created a professional video telling about the danger of unsecured firearms and to demonstrate how to use the cable locks.
I can take pride that even before Ferguson, Women’s Voices was educating the public about the issue of our local communities incarcerating people for unpaid traffic fines. We had the executive director and founder of ArchCity Defenders speak before their white paper on our municipal courts was published and became widely cited by those in the justice community calling for reform. I can take pride that we advocate for affordable housing and early childhood education, that we have discussed white privilege, and that every month we can publish the names of our members who write letters on behalf of the issues you and we care about.
But now I feel worn down. When the spokesperson for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, Jeff Roorda, responds to the killing of Dallas law enforcement officers with a tweet with a gruesome photo showing bloody hands saying “I do hope you are happy, Mr. President, the blood is on your hands,” what are we to think when I have seen no outcry from our papers, our mainstream media or any call for his resignation?
I truly admire your eloquence and your empathy and concern for those suffering from poverty and violence. But when we raise our compassionate voices and hear the deafening shouts from a growing number of people who would deny the justice we seek and hear the mean spirited rhetoric from those in offices of public trust (even from one who aspires to being our next President of the United States), how can we not be disheartened?
As your hair grays, mine becomes whiter. My wish for you is for a peaceful, joyful retirement. My wish for all of us is to use your kindness and compassion as an example moving forward.
With appreciation for your care and concern, Mary Clemons
Statement on Shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas
July, 8, 2016
Members of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice stand with activists across the country to decry the tragic police shootings of two black men: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA, and Philandro Castile in St. Paul, MN. We believe that Black Lives Matter, and the routine victimization of our African-American brothers and sisters by law enforcement and others must stop.
While we grapple with the reality and meaning of racism in our society, we are also outraged at the murder of five police officers and the wounding of seven others in Dallas, TX. These horrific shootings, which occurred after a peaceful protest, are another example of violence run amok in America.
These events, and so many others that we read and hear about daily, have one common denominator: the gun. We are now engaged in an arms race with ourselves. Good guys with guns and bad guys with guns result in wars. An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.
The time for a moment of silence for victims is over. Thoughts and prayers, while appropriate, will not solve these problems. It’s time for all of us to realize what the proliferation of guns and our reliance on them to solve problems has brought about.
Members of Women’s Voices will continue to work for gun violence prevention, no matter whose hand holds the weapon.
Pathway out of poverty for child care workers
St. Louis Post-Dispatch April 5, 2016
By Ruth Ehresman
The editorial “Breaking the poverty cycle” (March 23) regarding training child care workers is on target in many ways. It is without a doubt important to increase the quality and training of child care workers, particularly those in low-income settings and communities with high levels of toxic stress.
A wealth of research, as well as For the Sake of All and the Ferguson Commission, concur that quality care and education play a key role in assuring children succeed in school and in life. Training the mostly single mothers in the pilot project to provide quality care and also enrolling their children in high-quality settings is a win-win undertaking. But we can’t afford to be complacent about our efforts.