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Detroit Proper: Taking a Hard Look at Mass Shootings and Everyday Violence

It's a problem that continues to plague our community.

As the year draws to an end, so, too, will the body count of America's gunshot victims – at least until the new year. When it comes to mass shootings in the United States, this year was one of the bloodiest ever. There have been so many that we now have to define the term "mass shooting" in order to keep an accurate count. There are many definitions, but in 2013, Congress defined mass killings as those in which at least three people are killed in a single incident. By early November, we'd had 307 such acts of mayhem in 311 days, claiming the lives of 328 people and injuring 1,251. Even as the nation was reeling from the Nov. 7 mass shooting at a dance hall in Thousand Oaks, California, one mother was quietly preparing her son for burial in Detroit. Her name is Clementine Barfield, founder of the community-based organization, SOSAD (Save Our Sons and Daughters). And her son, Roger, had been a victim of a shooting more than three decades ago.

In the mid-1980s, Clem led the charge nationally for the end to gun violence in the nation's distressed urban neighborhoods. In those days, the concern about gun violence was focused squarely upon the inner city where children – especially black boys – were being gunned down at alarming rates. In 1986, two of those boys were Clem's sons, Roger, 15, and Derik Barfield, 16, who were shot over the attention of a girl. "Derik died from his head wound while Roger carried a 9 mm bullet in his head all these years," Clem recently posted on her Facebook page. "Organizing SOSAD was a tribute to Derik and all the children killed during that time." For the years following the shooting, she worked tirelessly to try to turn the trend around through community organizing and fighting for gun control. Eventually, she moved to Nashville with her older son to recover from the stress and continue her work there. Because of her efforts and that of many advocates since, the murder rate in Detroit has decreased overall but continues to be a threat to our young people.

One of the tragic by-products of mass shootings is how they seem to overshadow the shootings that don't fit the definition – the shootings that claim the lives of our black children, one and two at a time. According to the July 2017 issue of the journal Pediatrics, nearly 1,300 children die and 5,790 more are treated for gunshot wounds each year (including from accidents and suicides), disproportionately affecting boys, older children, and minorities. Of the 1,330 juveniles murdered in the United States in 2016, half were black and half were shooting victims. In Detroit, 107 African-American males between the ages of 18-35 were gunned down last year. For Clem and parents like her, the loss is an open wound that never heals, inflicting itself day after day, year after year. Roger, the son who survived the attack, lived the rest of his life with the bullet lodged in his head, and suffered lifelong mental and physical injuries as a result. When I last talked to her in 2016, Clem described the loss that parents feel when their children are maimed or murdered: the grandchildren she would never have, the futures that were erased the minute her boys became teenage victims of gun violence. Now, as this year draws to a close, that loss has been compounded.

"Spending some alone time with my son Roger, he will be buried tomorrow," Clem told the world on Facebook on Nov. 9. "It has been over 32 years since Roger and his brother Derik were shot in 1986. … 7/17/1986 was a long day for all of us because all our lives changed that day, (but) for Roger, who died a little each day for over 32 years, his long day is finally over." But it will never be over for Clem and for too many parents who have to lay their children to rest because of gun violence. Our thoughts and prayers have never been enough.

There is a GoFundMe to support Roger Barfield's funeral and autopsy expenses. Donate at: gofundme.com/roger-barfield-funeral-and-autopsy.

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