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BOB GRAY: Children’s Crusade

Following the latest school shooting atrocity in Parkland, Florida, another Children’s Crusade is rising: a largely youth-bred movement meant to persuade legislators to take some meaningful action to stem the needless deaths of our country’s children in schools.
‘The Children’s Crusade’ by Gustave Doré

In 1212, both fact and legend note a Children’s Crusade whose promise was to peacefully free the Holy Land from Muslim domination by converting the non-believers to Christianity.

Stephen of Cloyes gathered youth from Germany and Northern France to march to the Mediterranean Sea where the waters were to part, allowing the Crusaders to march to Jerusalem. They traveled first to Rome to receive Pope Innocent III’s blessing for their endeavor. With uncharacteristic good sense, the pontiff told the children to go home, to do good and behave themselves.

When the sea didn’t part, unscrupulous merchants offered to take the children to the Holy Land. Predictably, most of the crusaders died or were sold into slavery.

It’s a good story, but many facets of the tale are disputed.

The results of another Children’s Crusade, called for by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., are historically factual.

In 1963, King, seeing energy for protests to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama, flagging, proposed a Children’s Crusade to reinvigorate the movement. Despite protests about involving children in the struggle from other leaders, among them Malcolm X, King proceeded.

On the first day of protests, many children were arrested. When the protest continued the following day, the infamous “Bull” Connor, Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety, ordered the police to beat the young protestors with billy clubs, assault them with high-pressure water hoses and threaten them with attack dogs.

Children’s Crusade race riots at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. Photo courtesy Getty Images

Disgusted by this brutality, the civic leaders of Birmingham, the most segregated city in the south, began the at-least-nominal desegregation in public services, employment and schools.

Following the latest school shooting atrocity in Parkland, Florida, another Children’s Crusade is rising: a largely youth-bred movement meant to persuade legislators to take some meaningful action, or to take any action at all, to stem the needless deaths of our country’s children in schools.

To watch these children struggling to make sense of the senseless, to see them pleading for help from those in power as hearses bearing their best friends roll by in the background, is gut-wrenching to all but the most heartless of us.

Yet no official they questioned, from the president down to local governing boards, could find the guts to give them a straight answer, any even slightly specific answer, either in support of or against their search for meaning. Their cowardice and bald-faced self interest are shameful.

In the fractured America of the 1960s, beatings, water cannons and police dogs shamed a segregated city to do what was right. I’m terribly fearful that any changes wrought by this crusade are about as likely as the sea parting to lead the children to the promised land.

Apparently, in the disintegrating, uncivil United States of 2018, hearses carrying the bodies of and funerals memorializing our beautiful children, not only in Florida but across the breadth of this country, seem to have no effect whatsoever to move our “leaders” to do the same.

Sadly, tragically, this most recent crusade is more likely to end like 1212 than 1963 with  more kids dying and the survivors being sold down the river by those whose sworn duty is to protect them.

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