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Jeneé Osterheldt

There is no pro-life in a country that shoots its kids

American violence is eating our children, from Ralph Yarl and Payton Washington to Kaylin Gillis and beyond.

Clockwise, from top left; Kinsley White; Payton Washington, Kaylin Gillis, and Ralph Yarl have all been the victims of gun violence in recent days.Kara Phoner/Associated Press; Yarl photo uncredited; Baylor University; Chuchay Stark

Grace is lacking and the guns are clapping in America.

We load fear and violence in chambers and ignore the danger of guns and sons of oppression. Sometimes these sons are descendants of the supremacists, other times they are victims of it. Either way, bullets become their language.

Kinsley White, 6; Ralph Yarl, 16; Payton Washington, 18; Kaylin Gillis, 20; Heather Roth, 21.

Over the last week, these children were shot over bouncing a ball, ringing a doorbell, pulling into a driveway, and mistakenly opening the wrong car door. One of them, Kaylin, was killed.

Is this pro-life, America? Protecting fetuses but not the humans they become?


Guns are the leading cause of death for American children and teens. We give them firearms over free food and send thoughts and prayers when someone shoots up a school.

Kinsley White, 6, showed reporters a wound left on her face, after a North Carolina man shot and wounded her and her parents after she went to retrieve a basketball that had rolled into his yard, according to neighbors and the girl's family.Kara Fohner/Associated Press

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shootings accounted for about 20 percent of child deaths in 2021.

Seven mass shootings on Saturday included four dead at a Sweet 16 party in Alabama and two dead at a Kentucky park. The Gun Violence Archive has clocked more mass shootings than days this year — 165 — and we’re only a third of the way through 2023. Is this what we want when we say it is our right to bear arms? We are the living dead and dying young.

The American urge to feel so entitled to everything and anything means that when someone offends us on the most basic level, a basketball on the lawn or a car in the wrong driveway, we do not see a child, we see a threat. We feel unsafe. We do not ask questions. We simply open fire and claim fear later.

Andrew Lester, 84, of Kansas City, Mo., said he was scared to death of Ralph Yarl. The 16-year-old rang the doorbell. He was going to pick up his younger siblings. He went to the wrong address.


He did not kick down the door. He did not yell. He posed no threat. No words were exchanged. Lester himself told the police he fired at Ralph through a locked, glass door. He claimed he feared for his life. Ralph, he claimed, was big and scary. The 16-year-old is 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds, a lanky kid with a baby face.

Lester shot him in the head. And then again in the arm. Miraculously, Ralph would run to one house, and then another, and then one more, before finally getting help. Grace. A recognition of humanity.

Of the string of shootings this past week, only one required a protest and national outcry to get formal charges and an arrest. The one involving a dark-skinned Black boy: Ralph.

People attended a rally to support Ralph Yarl on Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Ralph rang a doorbell. Much like Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old Black teen who knocked on the door of Theodore Wafer in Michigan a decade ago. She’d been in a car accident. Wafer, a white man, fired a gun through the screen door and killed her. Ten years ago, Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old Black man crashed his car in North Carolina, knocked on a door for help, and the owner called the police assuming he was there to rob her. Ferrell needed help. Police killed him.

This is who we are.

We refuse to teach the truth about our country, to confront the very violence that bore our nation. Books about slavery, oppression, antisemitism, queer life, antiracism, and xenophobia are being banned.


Women are being held hostage to their own bodies as we lose reproductive rights and our personhood is at stake. It is a choice to indoctrinate people with a white-washed truth and a half-education that teaches God as guns, money, and patriarchy. The roads we’ve paved are inherently violent, as are we.

Where there is poverty and inequity, there will be brutality to mirror it. We won’t find well-being in weapons. There is no haven in the violence of guns or forced pregnancy. Where there is a supremacist system, there will be a culture of ferocity. Where there is a willful denial of history, we will be bound to repeat its failures.

Pro-life, pro-gun aggression is superficial safekeeping. No one is unharmed in the fear, disdain, and domination of one another.

These shootings affect kids of all identities and their perpetrators are from across the states, generations, races, and ethnicities.

In their mind, they are standing their ground. They don’t seem to realize our children are bleeding in the soil.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at Follow her @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.