The Unnecessary Death of Bianca Horton
Yet another unnecessary death in our community. Yet another victim of gang violence. Yet another victim of fear. Yet another victim of the cowardice of someone who postures unwavering toughness. Many in Chattanooga reacted to the unnecessary death of Bianca Horton last week with outrage, anger, and sadness. Most reacted with indifference or judgment. It was the kind of expected reaction from a majority populace more focused on faster internet speeds, mayoral scandal, and gentrification of Chattanooga.
About this time last year I wrote an post about Zoey and the Lost Boys of Chattanooga where the issue of violence facing our community was addressed and the story of Zoey was shared. I would encourage you to read that post for more background info on today’s reflections but if you don’t here’s a quick synopsis: Bianca Horton was the victim of a gang-related shooting in the Westside last year in which her friend was murdered and her daughter, Zoey, was paralyzed due to a gunshot wound. It was all over the news. There was a manhunt for the alleged shooter and many were crying out, “Justice for Zoey!” One of our members is one of Zoey’s caretakers and so we had the privilege of welcoming Zoey as a guest to BCC shortly after her victimization. I also learned that a boy who participates in BCC programming was one of Bianca’s sons. Fast forward one year and here we are.
Bianca Horton was found dead miles from her apartment in the southside only days before she was set to testify in the trial of her daughter’s attacker - her friend’s murderer. It didn’t take CSI or Stephen Hawking to figure out this was directly related to the upcoming trial. The judge, jury, and executioner in death of Bianca’s friend was set to stand trial, presumably to receive a maximum sentence for murder/attempted murder among other charges. He still will, but hopefully some of his set will too. In their eyes they carried out justice on behalf of their friend. Perverted justice. Justice rooted in cowardice and fear. Injustice.
I’ve had conversations with police officers, church members, and concerned citizens about the violent epidemic in our streets - particularly involving young, black men. As a matter of fact the motto of the City of Chattanooga’s Violence Reduction Initiative is to keep young black men alive and out of prison. I guess they forgot to include an umbrella policy for victims too. In almost every conversation I have I hear the same naive refrain: they just need to make better choices, get a real job, move out of the neighborhood, and leave the gang. I nod pitifully at them while my mind questions the insufferable ignorance the permeates the fiberoptic network of our city. Choices are easy when you have them. What is a “real” job anyway? Moving is an option when you have somewhere else to go and the means to get there. Leaving the gang isn’t like quitting a job - it’s a potentially suicidal decision.
A minor prophet delivering God’s Word to his people during a violent period in Israel’s history shouted this complaint:
How long, O Lord, am I to cry for help,
but you will not listen?
I cry out to you, “There’s violence!”
yet you will not come to the rescue.
Why do you make me see wrongdoing?
And why do you watch wickedness?
Destruction and violence are in front of me.
Quarrels and disputes arise.
That is why your teaching is numbed,
and justice is never carried out.
Wicked people surround righteous people
so that when justice is carried out, it’s perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
Habakkuk’s lament is our lament. We do not face the threat of marching armies and widespread destruction. We do face systemic destruction of our communities and the daily threat of violence. We are witness to wrongdoing and wickedness. Destruction and violence are in front of us; and, if I’m honest, I regularly feel like God’s teaching is numbed and justice is out of reach. We pursue justice. It’s in our DNA as a church, yet the words of our ancient brother offer a harsh reminder that when the wicked surround a pocket of the righteous even perceived justice is perverted. How long, O Lord, are we to cry for help? Come to our rescue!
Rescue from violence and from its effects as well! Violence pervades cities in unthinkable ways. It imbues fear into people who will most likely face nothing more violent than a broken into car into or stolen purse. Violence smothers opportunity for development through neighborly apathy and judgment against its victims. It causes hearts to grow callous and even the most ardent advocates to consider retreat into the inevitable abyss of urban poverty. Violence forces people who live under its constant threat to shield themselves with facades of strength while inside they are enveloped with fear, heartache, suffering, and longing to escape.
Bianca’s death was unnecessary. She is not alone. She wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. It may seem hopeless but it’s not. God offers hope for justice in the face of injustice in Christ. So we, as his people, continue to pursue it at all costs for as long as it takes.