Last week, a U.N. envoy to Syria warned that a whole generation of children has been traumatized by the violence in that country's 2½-year civil war. Thousands of children have been wounded and killed. Many have witnessed wartime atrocities.
Syria "will have to face a generation of children who lost their childhood, have a lot of hate and are illiterate," said Leila Zerrougui, the U.N.'s special representative for children and armed conflict.
She might just as well have been talking about children living in violent U.S. neighborhoods. There might not be a civil war going on. But teens and young men -- most of them African-American armed with firearms that are trafficked into poor communities of color -- are wounding and killing thousands, including children, across this country every year. From Oakland and Chicago to New Orleans, where two children were among 20 people shot during a Mother's Day parade earlier this year.
On Wednesday, another little girl in Oakland was killed, this time during a sleepover at the house of a friend who lived up the street.
Alaysha Carradine, 8, was killed when someone walked past the unlocked security gate of an apartment building on Wilson Avenue and rang the doorbell. Alaysha's 7-year-old friend Amara York opened the door, thinking it was her mother. Someone sprayed the metal security gate with gunfire. Alaysha was killed. Amara and her 4-year-old brother, Antoine, were injured along with their grandmother Clara Field.
No one had been arrested as of Friday. Oakland police said they did not have any further information about who had committed such a sick, cowardly act. The one person in the house who was not injured, a 22-year-old man named Khamel Hardin was upstairs. He denied that he was the target and said he had no idea who would want to shoot up the house.
One woman sobbed as she recounted how emergency medical personal carried Alaysha's crumpled body to an ambulance. She had just seen the little girl playing in front of the apartment building the day before.
"Why would you do this to a kid, why?" she asked. "Excuse me, God," she said, crossing herself, "but I hope whoever did it rots in hell."
Alaysha's friend and her little brother survived, as did their grandmother. But how will these two young children be affected by such a horrific ordeal? How is what they have gone through any less traumatic than the experiences of children in foreign wars?
Outside the apartment where Alaysha was killed, a neighbor with a 3-year-old said her daughter has become so accustomed to hearing gunshots that she automatically crawls beneath the dining room table for cover. Even if she hears a car backfiring, the little girl thinks it's shooting. "I don't want her to get so used to that that it becomes normal," the woman said. "I feel like a bad mom but I can't afford to move."
Lisa Blair is the principal at E.C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts. The K-8 charter school is located in one of the city's most violent East Oakland neighborhoods. Blair told me in an interview last year that her students have had to step around dead bodies before the police arrived to cordon off the scene. They hear gunshots night after night after night "just like a war."
"Students in disadvantaged communities suffer from PTSD, just like children in Iraq," Blair said. "But people expect them to leave all those emotions outside and walk into the school like any other student in a middle-class or upper-class neighborhood."
Yet there is no U.N. envoy to draw attention to their plight.
Perhaps 40 people showed up for a rally for Alaysha on Thursday outside the apartment where she was killed -- compared to the thousands who protested in the days after George Zimmerman was acquitted in¿ the Trayvon Martin slaying.
Why do so many get so worked up about children dying across the country or clear across the world, yet so few speak out about the babies dying right under their noses?