There has been much outcry in the past few days over the shocking death of 5-year-old Cannon Hinnant, shot and killed last week in Wilson, North Carolina. Unspeakably tragic, his murder has been quickly politicized, a strange counterpoint to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. Social media posts, intended to raise awareness of and justice for the boy, describe the cold-blooded manner in which the child was murdered while playing outside his house; they also often point out that the boy was white and his killer black. Why aren’t we talking about his death, they ask. Where are the news stories? Where is the “Justice for Cannon”? The implication is that headlines are dominated by #BLM protests while white deaths are ignored (a claim that is increasingly difficult to make given the nationwide focus on this story). White lives matter, too. White lives mattered first.
One Facebook post, widely circulated via cut-and-paste, puts it bluntly, mentioning more than once the skin colors of both the victim and the shooter. “Who is going to paint ‘Cannon’ in the side of a building? What National sports team is going to wear T-shirts with his name on them?” The post concludes: “I’m so sick of hearing ONLY ‘Black Lives Matter.’ The whole agenda is racism & I’m not going to feel guilty for being white or shut up when the same damn thing is happening but no one is talking about it because the color of skin does not fit the agenda being pushed.”
The irony, of course, is that those who trumpet “All Lives Matter” while taking umbrage with #BLM often ignore comparable horrors in nearby communities of color. In South Florida, where I live, there have been multiple incidents in the past month alone. A 7-year-old in Fort Lauderdale shot in the head. A 7-year-old killed in a drive-by in Miami. A 3-year-old in Palm Springs run over by her father’s truck. A 2-year-old in West Palm Beach shot in the face. No national news stories. No social media campaigns to raise awareness or marshal support for the families. No widespread cries of justice for Alana Washington, the little girl gunned down in Miami. Just more white noise below the din of modern American urban life.
Justice was served quickly, immediately, and decisively for Cannon. His killer was arrested and charged within 24 hours. There were no delays by law enforcement officers failing to make arrests, or by prosecutors and grand juries failing to bring charges and indict. There were no riots because the system operated exactly as it should have. If there is anything to protest here, it is the ease with which his killer procured a firearm.
Young Cannon’s violent death was one of many thousands of such tragedies in the United States each year. Death by gunshot was the second-highest cause of death in the United States in 2016 among children and adolescents ages 1 to 19, according to a 2018 study in The New England Journal of Medicine. That same year 3,143 children were killed with firearms in the U.S. Homicides accounted for 1,865 of youth deaths by firearm; suicide for 1,102; and unintentional or undetermined accounted for 126 deaths.
If you’re able to ignore the daily toll of guns in America’s inner cities, if you’re annoyed by the ongoing insistence by activists that black lives do indeed matter, if you’re quick to share Cannon’s story for reasons you can’t quite articulate, if you feel the need to point out the color of his killer’s skin, or if you find yourself moved to tears over Cannon but not Alana, then perhaps it is time not only to interrogate what you really feel about the sanctity of lives in this nation but also to reconsider the racism implicit in the claim that “All Lives Matter.”