The Legends Who Go Unheard

Why do we only hear about the famous deaths?


Photo: Cary Robbins

Angel Moms stand at activist Mrs. Stacie Payne’s “Silence the Violence Stop Gun Violence Rally” with a picture of their loved who unfortunately died due to gun violence. These people stood up in a room full of people to tell their loved ones’ stories.

Cameron William Selmon, Curtis Lloyd Johnson and Christopher Thomas died due to senseless gun violence, but many people do not know their names. Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter accident, a helicopter that if he had not been on, nobody but people from the area of the crash would have known about. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 106 reported helicopter accidents in 2016. Worldwide, people know about Kobe Bryant and his death, but only few people in the Memphis community know about Selmon, Johnson, and Thomas. It’s painful to hear when anyone has died, but it’s more painful to know that people will only know your name if you were considered a legend in the world or if you die in a catastrophic way. 

If asked, the mothers and family members of these children would say their loved one, to them, was a legend. To them, their loved one’s death is worthy of world-wide acknowledgement. When a man is killed due to gun violence, especially if this man is colored or in a bad part of town, nobody but the people they grew up with will know what happened to them. In Memphis, killings and shootings happen almost daily. Names and people come and go. Everyone wants their story to be heard because a killing in an impoverished neighborhood digs a deeper hole for the families and children trying to escape. “I see it on the news all the time,” Mrs. Tara Cash, mother of Johnson, said. “You see it reading the paper, or you hear about it online. But, you would never think that it would knock on your door, touch your family. I just want people to know that it doesn’t discriminate.”

People know the names of Kobe Bryant, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger because they were considered legends. They died unexpectedly just as Selmon, Johnson, and Thomas did. The only difference is, these young men died in an environment with little resources. If someone dies in an area where death happens often, they often just become another person who was killed in the “hood”.

25 percent of the Memphis population lives under the poverty line according to the Commercial Appeal. According to WREG Channel 3, in 2019, there were 191 homicide cases in Memphis compared to 186 and 180 in 2018 and 2017. The rate of homicides in the city is increasing every year. According to the commercial appeal, 45% of homicides in Memphis were gang-related. 

One killing in the city of Memphis this past summer happened on June 12, 2019. Brandon Webber, at age 20, was shot 16 times by the United States Marshals Service. That night, the neighborhood where he had grown up, filled the streets shouting his name. The neighborhood of Frayser stood up and rioted because they did not understand why a part of their community was missing. A well-known figure of the neighborhood had been shot to death 16 times, and they were not going to let his story go unheard. 

These deaths do not kill just one person; they kill communities. I am often reminded of a quote from a mother I interviewed two years ago who lost her son, Christopher Thomas, to gun violence in 2015. “When you pull that trigger, not only are you killing that person, you’re killing families,” Ms. Tara Thomas said. “You’re killing dreams.” I have four different shirts with the name “Cameron William Selmon” on it and five different colored wristbands with the phrase “#SilencetheViolence” and “Justice for Cameron.” Selmon’s name will forever live on through these shirts and wristbands, but his family will continue to spread his story until they die. To them, he was a legend, and he died just as suddenly as Kobe Bryant. Selmon, Johnson, Thomas, and even Webber died too young. Their stories should not go unheard. Their lives mattered and will forever matter. “There is a saying, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you will fall or anything.’ And I see you all here today while we march on,” Mrs. Stacie Payne, mother of Selmon, said. “If you believe that we can end gun violence, will you stand with me? We can end gun violence. There’s no way that I will ever let Cameron die in vain. Until I take my last breath, I’m going to always CAMpaign.” 

If you would like to read more about the stories of Selmon, Johnson and Thomas, click on the related story under this post, and you can read a news story I wrote 2 years ago about these families and the struggle of losing a loved one to gun violence.