What’s driving the rise in teenage deaths?

This week, the West Virginia state court system lit up with news of a 16-year-old girl named Jessica Chambers in Surry County, WV dying in a harrowing incident. Chambers was taken by a passerby to a nearby hospital at 10:20 am on 8 January, after the driver that had picked her up hit her in the head, fleeing the scene. As revealed in court, Chambers was four weeks pregnant.

Normally we would be interested in telling Jessica’s story here, but that isn’t the case because all the facts of her death are still coming to light. All we can do is feel for her family. All we can do is warn parents to teach their children about avoiding being targets for strangers, whatever the reason they may be. All we can do is examine the seemingly too-little to-do system and ask ourselves whether something is being done about it.

Until we do the first, we’ll continue to hear about young women like Jessica and we’ll keep on hearing about what, by contemporary standards, is extreme violence against women. At first glance, Jessica’s story seems terribly extreme. It doesn’t fit into the stark narratives we like to believe the world has to offer us on this issue. This much we know: Jessica was an African American girl with three missing teeth. A black woman with a black baby. She was picked up by a driver looking for sex, then left for dead, and a black teenager with a black baby.

But then it hit me. When Jessica was left for dead, she was working as a waitress on a black Friday night, and it is the night of the most notorious, far-right, anti-black day of the year, Black Lives Matter activism – a day that has struck out against any form of violence, regardless of motivation. And then just over two months later, on 22 April 2015, seven months after Jessica was left for dead, eight white, 19-year-old students got together and killed nine black parishioners in the Charleston church.

Those are two of the most recent examples of murders by teenagers of people with other races. Angela Renee Henderson was murdered on New Year’s Eve, 2015. A 16-year-old boy killed her. Then, just over a year later, two teenagers killed a 22-year-old African American, Emmanuel Chibokol, outside a church in Brazil. The killers were even younger – 17 and 14. All were white teenagers.

Jessica’s story is extreme. But today, in a big way, it is representative of an ongoing struggle.

The West Virginia killings

Jessica Chambers, 16, died on 8 January. Police said that someone called police that day to report that Jessica had been hit on the head with a rock or bottle and had a concussion. Jessica had flown into the hospital and her baby was due in a month. The men who were with her during the roadside incident have now been charged with murder.

Assault and battery – black victim, white offender

15-year-old Tierra Eller – down in SD, Carolina

The ACC are still looking into this one.

Felony evading police – 80-year-old man

Cristobal Gutierrez-Gonzalez was charged with aggravated assault and battery – a victim of a grudge

Assault and battery – 15-year-old white girl, 3-year-old black girl

This story is still being investigated

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