Guns & Grief in Baltimore City

Note from BEE:

This is the third of a four-part series of student essays regarding the state of Baltimore City schools and how the 2018 statewide election can improve students’ educational experiences. In a time where gun violence is increasing in our communities and schools nationwide, 11th grade student and BEE member Taylor writes of how gun violence directly affects her own educational experience. Please join us each Sunday as we post a new one, and join us in person at the BEE Gubernatorial Candidate Forum on Education at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, where we hold candidates accountable to Baltimore City students, parents and teachers. Please RSVP on Facebook and sign up on EventBrite, so we know you’re coming!

 

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM

Gunshots rang all throughout the room. Screaming came from downstairs, in the closet, and outside. Ti’Jae Barnes.

It was late in the evening, and Ti’Jae along with her daughter and two younger sisters were sitting in her bedroom. Out of the blue, a loud rumbling came from downstairs. A gunman looking for Ti’Jae’s boyfriend held everyone at gunpoint. Her little sister, being the brave and bold young lass she is, decided to take action. As the gunman was yelling and arguing with Ti’Jae, her sister rushed everyone into the closet. Once everyone was in the closet, she told the kids to close their eyes, and cover their ears.

17.

That’s how many gunshots were now embedded in Ti’Jae’s head. My oldest cousin, who was a mother, daughter, and older sister, was killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is my story—the story of a black teenager named Taylor—who grew up in a poor neighborhood with a financially stable family. In the city of Baltimore, everyone knows everyone. You can’t turn the corner without running into somebody who doesn’t know your mom, dad, uncle, aunt, cousins, or even your grandparents.

Baltimore City is the city that bleeds. I was born and raised here, experienced all types of tragedy. But the biggest has been gun violence. All throughout our country, school shootings, gang violence, drive-by shootings, murder… thousands of acts of violence are committed every day. Members of our society criticize their own people for this violence while they continue to sit back and do nothing about it. These acts of violence have many contributing factors. Violence in our country today is escalating because we don't appropriately control the distribution of the guns sold legally, not to mention the abundance of illegal guns that run throughout my city. There are not enough restrictions on guns sold legally or given illegally. The illegal purchase of guns through the black market is out of control. There is not enough education on the usage and storage of guns.

Baltimore would only be helpless against gun violence if there was no possibility for change. But there is a possibility to make changes and improve conditions. Stricter gun control measures can be made, a greater care for people with psychological conditions, redefining masculinity, and showing more love and kindness in our daily lives are all ways in which we can take action.

Education advocates must support smart methods to reduce the number of guns in circulation. At their worst, guns make it easy for criminals to take the lives of our loved ones and community members. But they also impact the ability for some children to realize their maximized potential, to thrive academically, and to experience childhood as it ought to be experienced.

When students face hard tragedies it’s tough to look at the positive and wonderful opportunities that life may bring. When my cousin died, I couldn’t think straight, focus on my school work, and I definitely didn’t have energy to pull myself together. The only thing I could think about was the justice my family needed and why the people who killed Ti’Jae did what they did. I’m sad to say, school was the last thing on my mind. I couldn’t understand how someone could be so cold hearted to take a mother away from an innocent child.

When life throws tough and complicated situations at students, the only thing we can do is rise above and remember that everything happens for a reason. Some situations may be harder to process than others, but using violence to receive the comfort we need won’t solve the issue. We need lawmakers to understand the complexities of our lives here in Baltimore City and to understand all of the factors that impact our education. A governor of this state is a governor for Baltimore City. Let’s hope that when our next governor, whoever that may be, says that they care about educating Maryland’s students, they understand that educating Baltimore’s students also means dealing with a complex history of inequities and structural racism.

 

Taylor Owens is an 11th grade student at the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and has been a BEE member since 2016.