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What in the World, a free weekly newsletter from our foreign correspondents, is sent every Thursday. Below is an excerpt. Sign up to get the whole newsletter delivered to your inbox.
The US celebrated its 247th birthday yesterday − and it sure knows how to put on a party. Across the country, millions of people commemorated the Fourth of July, marking the day in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and America’s 13 original colonies separated from Great Britain.
A stars and stripes balloon rises beside the National Archives, home to the Declaration of Independence, in Washington.Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
In the nation’s capital, thousands of people lined Constitution Avenue for the annual Independence Day parade, waving the American flag as they cheered on marching bands, floats and military units. Picnics and rooftop barbecues stretched across DC as families and revellers (including yours truly) enjoyed day-long “cookouts” with all the usual July 4 staples: hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken wings, salads.
And then, of course, there was the spectacular fireworks display, lighting up the sky over the Washington Monument in hues of red, green and gold as President Joe Biden and his family watched on from the White House.
Sadly, though, for yet another consecutive year, the Fourth of July long weekend was marred by bloodshed, with dozens of people killed or injured by gun violence.
Debris and overturned tables remain after the mass shooting at a block party in Baltimore on July 2.Credit: AP
The carnage began in Baltimore shortly after midnight on Sunday (AEST) when two people died and 28 others were injured during a block party in the Southside neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Most of the surviving victims were minors, the youngest aged 13.
On Monday night, five people were killed − including a 15-year-old boy − when a man wearing a bulletproof vest began firing randomly along several blocks of southwest Philadelphia’s Kingsessing neighbourhood.
And by Tuesday, Texans woke up to the news that three people had been killed and eight others were injured when several men started firing indiscriminately into a crowd in the city of Fort Worth, about 50 kilometres from Dallas.
Even after all these months of reporting in the US − including more mass shootings than I care to remember − it’s hard for me to get used to the frightening reality of the gun violence.
Bullet holes marked by police on the side of a truck after the mass shooting in south-west Philadelphia’s Kingsessing neighbourhood on Monday night.Credit: Reuters/Bastiaan Slabbers
Indeed, I distinctly recall being at an Independence Day pool party in Capitol Hill around this time last year when my phone started buzzing with news that a gunman perched on a rooftop had opened fire on a July 4 parade in Highland Park, near Chicago, killing seven people and wounding many others as families and children ducked for cover.
Before I knew it, I’d gone from commemorating America’s freedom and liberty to once again reporting on the consequences of its fiercely guarded Second Amendment.
This year, as we approached the holiday weekend, a friend asked if I had any plans.
“I was thinking of going away but travelling can be a little nuts at this time,” I replied. “Hopefully no mass shootings like last year …”
It was clearly wishful thinking. After all, figures from the Gun Violence Archive show that there have been 21,928 firearm related deaths in the US this year alone, of which at least 355 are classified as mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot, not including the gunman).
In the past 48 hours alone, such shootings have taken place in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey and my own home district of Washington DC.
The latest spate of shootings gives weight to research suggesting that July 4 is the riskiest time for mass shootings on the US calendar. Homicides tend to spike in the summer months, when large gatherings, searing heat, alcohol and other substances can create a perfect storm for tensions to escalate into violence − and, in turn, tragedy.
But no matter the cause, every incident comes with the same predictable cycle: thoughts and prayers, outrage, finger pointing, political inaction.
“Over the last few days, our nation has once again endured a wave of tragic and senseless shootings in communities across America,” Biden said in a statement from the White House as yesterday’s festivities got under way.
“Today, Jill and I grieve for those who have lost their lives and, as our nation celebrates Independence Day, we pray for the day when our communities will be free from gun violence.”
It’s quite the birthday wish.
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