King Carter’s Zip code should not have been a death sentence for him

Street signs outside the Northwest Miami apartment complex where 6-year-old King Carter was killed.
Street signs outside the Northwest Miami apartment complex where 6-year-old King Carter was killed. For the Miami Herald

The joy and pride that usually accompany me when I see one of my former students were nowhere to be found last weekend. There was only sorrow and despair for me, and especially for Santonio Carter, the mother of his children and countless family and friends as hundreds gathered in pain and outrage at the senseless killing of his 6-year old son, King Carter.

I hadn’t seen Santonio in well over a decade — since I handed him his high school diploma. At that time, I knew him as “Blaze.” As his principal, I marveled at his linguistics skills as an aspiring rapper. I shared and supported his hopes for stardom and at every turn tried to help cultivate his skills by handing him the microphone during school pep rallies and celebratory events.

I trusted him with the microphone as he trusted me and the adult educators in his life to help him pursue his dream and show that the hopes of the American Dream that we talked about did, in fact, apply to him, too. He had always been a responsible student and had grown into a responsible, dedicated young man and father who walked his son to school, involved him in sports and purchased candy in the wee hours of the night because his love and adoration for King made him unable to say No.

In King, Santonio was realizing his American Dream — being a present and active father to his son.

There will be no more walks to school. No more looking forward to Little League football. There will be no more late-night runs for candy, the sweetness replaced with a bitterness shared by an entire community, an outrage that should be examined by the whole nation that only hears, reads or views news footage about the virtual genocide in which legions of young black males find themselves on either side of high-powered weapons that have no eyes and in the hands of shooters who have no hearts.

King was felled by a blind hail of bullets on what seemed to be a quiet Saturday afternoon. Santonio’s vivid description and painful anguish over seeing his young son shot sent chills through the veins of each person that gathered at the complex.

His words compelled tears to roll down the faces of even the toughest in the crowd. Even the so-called thugs cried.

Senseless violence and killing have no place in society. They rarely visit the suburbs. When they do, they make headlines and are usually followed by swift, deliberate action and the perpetrators’ capture. But with high frequency and impunity, senseless killing seems to reside in the urban core in South Florida and across the nation.

King was not in a gang. He was not a mischievous child guilty of the even the smallest sin of throwing rocks at a neighbor’s car or window in the complex where he lived.

King Carter was home.

His death is not a dream, as one young man who stood behind me quietly prayed. He asked God to awaken little King and bring him back home. Sadly, this is real — it is the collective reality for far too many children, youth, and families that call the urban core home. It is a reality that hurts. The loss of innocence and hope embodied in King Carter is where it stings the most. It should pierce the very souls of everyone who cares about our children and their futures.

Bullets flying through the neighborhoods in the urban core have become common. Weekly, we see a frenzy of unchecked gun violence that places mothers in churches’ front pews trying to bridge the irreconcilable gulf between what they had breathed and sweated and pushed into the world and what lies embalmed in the hand-picked coffins before them — coffins that should never be made for a body the size of King’s.

With each senseless loss of young life, we move from sorrow to anger; to despair and worry for the children and youth, all the residents who are trapped in terror because of their Zip codes.

I pray that our emotions move to unity and shared accountability — for I believe that in the end, we all will be held accountable — and that we reject this violence as the “new normal.”

And I pray that we come together and yield the change we seek in ourselves and for our communities so that our children’s urban nightmare can one day instead become a pathway to the American Dream.

No matter where they live.

Steve Gallon III a 25-year educator who was principal of Miami Northwestern Senior High School from 1998-2005.