Ubiñas: The disease of gun violence killed Philly teen

Family and friends comfort each other at the vigil for 15-year-old Tyhir Barnes on the corner of 58th and Ellsworth Street on Tuesday. Tyhir was killed Monday after a basketball game in Southwest Philadelphia.

TYHIR BARNES died on Monday. He was 15.

Cause of death: a bullet to his face, police say, after some coward pumped bullets into a crowd after a neighborhood basketball game in Southwest Philly.

Why shoot into a crowd? Maybe it was retaliation over trash talk after a basketball win, or something equally trivial.

But let's call the cause of death what it is. A disease.

Tyhir Barnes, a kid with promise, a kid who gave his family hope, died of our national disease, gun violence.

This insidious, infectious disease kills thousands of Americans each year, but is inevitably overshadowed by other diseases with more exotic names but fewer casualties. Zika claimed its first victim in the United States the day before Tyhir became one of the city's 135 homicide victims in 2016.

By comparison, gun violence is a national epidemic that grows in soil cultivated by cowards with easy access to firearms, and gutless politicians who prioritize politics over people and won't allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study the issue. Why? There are NRA scores to protect. The more gutless the politicians, the higher their score for serving the organization more than the people who elected them.

So it's no surprise that we don't move forward, no matter which or how many of our citizens are shot or die.

As of Tuesday, there have been 612 shootings in Philadelphia, compared with 551 at this time last year.

Without money for research, we really don't know what to do, though Tyhir, and other victims of gun violence, including the two other teens who were hit by bullets Monday night, deserve better.

Tyhir, or Jaquil as his friends called him, was a good kid who loved basketball and music and had a bright future, as do too many who lose the daily battle to the epidemic we selectively care about - yes, selectively.

On some days, the disease is capable of shocking us to horrified attention, of leveling us to our knees - especially when the victims look like us, or people we value in this country.

On those days, we pray and mourn and have breathless discussions about rallying to do something about the nearly 12,000 gun murders in this country a year.

But those aren't most days. That's why it's so much easier for many to deny the toll it's taking, the impact on all of us, even if we haven't been directly affected. Yet.

The causes of the disease are numerous - political, economic, racial, criminal. The result of "one nation" divided between the haves and have-nots. Of accessibility to guns that have no business on our streets. Of willfully ignorant citizens who want to believe that if it's not their neighborhood or their people, it's not their problem.

The disease is often tragically, unfairly, passed down from generation to generation, with each one becoming more susceptible to its ravages, more numb to its effects. Like so many of the young people who gathered on Tuesday for a vigil for Tyhir, who, unlike some of the shell-shocked adults among them, looked like they had been here before. Many had.

Not all who die from the disease are innocent 15-year-old boys. People line up to point that out, as if that is reason enough to disregard such unchecked chaos, as if a less-than-perfect existence deserves our apathy.

Maybe that's why so many find it easy to distance themselves from this epidemic - denying its relentless reach, arguing instead that there isn't enough outrage among those affected the most.

"If they don't care, why should we?"

But that claim is mostly a distraction, a way for people to wipe their hands of the issue.

The outrage has been there. It is there. It was there when Tyhir's mother, Tanisha Pratt-Thomas, spoke to the people who gathered at 58th and Ellsworth on Tuesday, and told them that they needed to talk about black boys killing black boys, they needed to speak out to save themselves.

So, here we are.

Tyhir Barnes is gone, but rather than "honor" him with vigils or prayers or, God help us, retaliation, let's call this epidemic what it is and attack it as if our own lives, or the lives of people we love, depend on it.

Because one day, it just might.

ubinas@phillynews.com

215-854-5943 @NotesFromHel

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