A year before Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, Mo., a friend of mine, Charlie, appeared at a meeting shaken. The 16 year-old boy he’d mentored for the past eight years had been killed in St. Louis by another teenager. The meeting was of the board of directors of the Peace Economy Project, and Charlie’s loss led us all to look more closely at our experience of the war at home, guns in our lives and the lives of our nearer neighbors as well as those in foreign countries. Nationally the NRA was opposing the United Nations International Arms Trade Treaty, and a few months after the 16-year-old’s death, the children in Newtown were killed.
Board members began to interview the mothers of children shot and killed in St. Louis in order to try to understand the war at home -- not just where the weapons are coming from and who is using them, though that’s important. We wanted to try to document the cost of war in St. Louis more fully. Then the events in Ferguson displayed how our local police forces use their militarized forces against protesters, escalating violence.
We’ve been working on this project for two years. We have collected data on handgun traffic and weapons transfers from the Pentagon to local police departments. We’ve collected personal stories about community failure to come forth as witnesses and police failure to act on tips or put the full force of their efforts into solving the crime. We’ve heard about the availability of guns including the shocking anecdote that a friend’s brother is a police officer who sells guns to family members and neighbors.
A major cause of street violence here in St. Louis is determination to make people pay for past injuries and slights. The question is: When did your neighbor’s beef become your beef? Retaliation goes on and on.
Most painful have been the accounts that mothers have told us about the circumstances of their children’s deaths, the support or lack of support in those first moments, the lack of money for funerals, their frustration that the crime remains unsolved, their ongoing experience of loss.
But on the other hand we’ve discovered groups and individuals who provide support to bereaved families, strive to reduce community tensions, employ youth, and call forth community prayer.
The Peace Economy Project continues to support the International Small Arms Trade Treaty. As they say, there’s better control of the international trade in bananas than in guns. A project goal is a reduction in U.S. military spending. Peace Economy Project also wants better tracking and reporting of where the Pentagon deposits goods it no longer finds useful-- whether on abandoned battle fields or in U.S. cities.
The project also has welcomed the insight developed by Veterans for Peace: oppose the war abroad and also oppose the war at home. We understand the war at home better than we did two years ago. General Sherman was right that it is hell. But it sure seems like war is hard to resist.