Jaco: Another dead child, another spasm of thoughts and prayers

The 9-mm bullet, made of lead encased in a alloy of copper and zinc and weighing about half an ounce – about the same weight as a half-slice of bread – was blown out of the handgun’s barrel at about 800 mph, capable of flying over the length of almost four football fields in a second.

Because the distance was only a few dozen feet, the bullet punched through the car window and into the relatively small body at almost the same moment the trigger was pulled. The conical slug wobbled slightly once it pierced the skin, burrowing a tunnel about an inch in diameter through blood vessels and soft tissue. Any bone it struck was splintered into granular fragments. Any organ, such as a kidney or the liver, would look like a small watermelon hit with a sledgehammer.

Nearby tissue that the slug didn’t actually penetrate was stretched, bruised, or damaged beyond repair by the shock wave accompanying the supersonic bullet, like waves spreading away from a boat’s bow, a process called cavitation. 

Caion Greene didn’t know any of that. All he knew was that he wanted to stay at his family’s apartment in south St. Louis County to play video games. But his mother insisted he accompany her Sunday night to drop off food for his grandmother, who lives in the LaSalle Apartments on LaSalle Park Court just south of downtown.

The grandmother’s lights were off, so they dropped the food off at a neighbor’s home and got back into their car.

They had noticed two men staring at them on the street. But Caion and his mother didn’t think much of it until the men, strangers to the family, stepped from behind a large trash can and began spraying the car with bullets. The attack was either a case of mistaken identity or random, raging violence aimed at a family they didn’t know.

All Caion knew was that he was in searing pain and a wet, red stain was spreading across the chest of his T-shirt. He looked at his mother from the back seat and said, “Ow.”

He was dead by the time he got to the hospital.

Caion was 9., a fourth-grader at Peabody Elementary School. The next morning, he was supposed to receive an award from the school an honor-roll student with perfect attendance.

So far this year, seven children age 17 or younger have been victims of gun violence in St. Louis. Dmyah Fleming was 7 when she was killed, along with her father, in a parked car in the Central West End in January. Paris Lee, who was 17, was gunned down in Dutchtown the same month.

In February, 17-year-old Christa Metcalf died near Fairground Park when the car she was in crashed and burned after the driver was shot.  Journee Hemphill was 8 and Jakari Hemphill was 1 when they and their mother were shot and killed in their house in Dutchtown. Teshawn Ford was 15 when he was shot to death in a parking lot in the Greater Ville where he’d gone to trade handguns.

Mayor Lyda Krewson and the two candidates running to replace her, Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderwoman Cara Reed, all issued shocked statements. CrimeStoppers offered a $10,000 reward. Caion Greene’s wailing grandmother issued a tearful plea for people in the Black community to put down their guns.

Rinse. Repeat.

Since 1990, almost 600 children under age 17 have been shot and killed in St. Louis. Almost every time, politicians express sympathy, rewards are offered and anguished family members beg for change. And nothing happens except that the scabs covering the civic wounds become harder and more callused.

For the past three-plus decades, children in the Gateway City have been shot and killed at ten times the national average.

Ask cartel cities in Mexico, war-ravaged provinces in Afghanistan, or entire countries such as Iraq what happens when death, especially the death of children, is as regular as sunrise. People become numb.

Because of an ineffective police force with a racist reputation that solves only 1/3 of murders in high-crime areas, the poorest and most-endangered St. Louisans gave up on calling or co-operating with the cops years ago. Because of white police bitterness since the protests over Michael Brown, Jason Stockley and George Floyd, some officers are reluctant to do much more than stay inside their patrol cars in areas that need effective policing the most.

Because of a state government firmly in the hands of GOP extremists and their tribal gun fetish, state laws now allow carrying concealed weapons without permits, brandishing weapons in public (including AK-47 and AR-15 variants), and handcuffing police by preventing them from confiscating weapons from suspected bad guys.

Because much of St. Louis’s armed, death-cult underclass checked out of “normal” society years ago, a child’s death to them is a cost-of-business expense when that business is drugs or revenge. Because so many St. Louis neighborhoods live in fear of the gunslingers and in distrust of the police, witnesses are hard to come by.

And because of all that, Caion Greene, a fourth-grade honor-roll student who never missed a day of class, bled to death in the back seat of his mother’s car Sunday night, his tiny heart, like that of the city where he died, shattered.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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