Including Black Voices in the Discussion of Gun Violence
by Anika Talia Griffiths | published Apr. 18th, 2018
Gun violence in America has become the cause for a nationwide, student-led movement called March for Our Lives. There have been over 300 school shootings since 2013, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. A student shooter took the lives of 17 of his fellow schoolmates and injured more than a dozen others on Valentine’s Day. The event is the seventh deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. It is also the third deadliest school shooting, falling behind the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook massacres.
Since the shooting, high school students have been speaking out against gun violence, organizing walk-outs and educating themselves and others about the NRA’s political influence. At a rally held exactly one week after the Parkland shooting, survivors of gun violence spoke out.
“You adults have failed us by not creating a safer place for your children to go to school. So we, the next generation, will not fail our own kids. We will make this change happen,” said Florence Yared, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The efforts of the Stoneman Douglas students have garnered plenty of support. On Saturday, March 24, 2018, people across the globe marched and held rallies in over 800 cities demanding gun control that will ensure student safety. Approximately 500,000 people gathered at the D.C. march where celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Hudson gave performances and showed support. More locally, the rally at Rochester’s Washington Square Park was estimated to have drawn 5,000 marchers. RIT students were among the counted.
The voice of the Black community is just as brave as these highschoolers, but rather than receiving support, they are fought against and quietened.
A lot of attention and support has been given to the brave survivors of this recent school shooting for speaking up on gun violence. However, there have been voices speaking out against gun violence long before these Stoneman Douglas students. The voice of the Black community is just as brave as these highschoolers, but rather than receiving support, they are fought against and quietened.
In a movement known as Black Lives Matter (BLM), African Americans and some non-black allies have been asking for the ending of racial bias in the criminal justice system as well as justice for unarmed African Americans who were killed by police officers.
The BLM movement began after George Zimmerman was acquitted of Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2013. It strengthened and grew with each brutal murder of a African Americans by the State. Some of the more popularized victims include Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and Eric Garner.
Instead of worldwide marches and celebrity performances, the response to the BLM movement was the formation of two counter-protesting groups. The groups taunted the original movement, naming themselves “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.” Some protesters in the latter group had meant well in defending innocent officers who had been targeted out of anger by BLM protesters or any other citizens. The former, however, had no intention to defend a group of people or support marginalized communities. Rather, the All Lives Matter counter protest was simply taking focus away from the racial inequality that BLM wanted put focus on. Their stance is that “no life matters more than any other” which deliberately overlooks how inequality in the U.S. makes it so that some people are treated as though they matter less.
Together, the All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter counter movements are a stark contrast to the reactions received by March for Our Lives. This issue was brought to the crowd’s attention by a Teen Empowerment group at Rochester’s local protest. Although it was noticed locally, the March for Our Lives movement has generally overlooked where it intersects with BLM.
March for Our Lives means well in asking for gun control and mental healthcare that can limit school shootings. However, it forgets one important thing: gun violence is not an issue limited to civilians. Perpetrators of gun violence also include law enforcement officers. The very people who are supposed to be limiting violence in our communities are using violence to kill innocent people. This is seen when police officers shoot and kill unarmed civilians. This is almost like a firefighter who, rather than saves people from burning buildings, sets houses on fire. The issue of police brutality is even more heightened by the fact that it disproportionately affects Black communities. So, imagine firefighters setting several houses on fire, but more of the houses belong to black citizens compared to white or Hispanic citizens.
Perpetrators of gun violence also include law enforcement officers.
Dr. James Buehler, a professor at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, analyzed 2,285 police-involved deaths in a recent study. He found that between 2010 and 2014, black males were killed 2.8 times more often than their white counterparts during interaction with law enforcement. Hispanic males are killed 1.7 times more often. Buehler elaborated on the results.
"The disparities in the legal intervention reflect broader disparities in health and mortality rates that we see in this country across race and ethnic groups," Buehler said.
In the 100 largest city police departments, unarmed black people are killed at a rate four times higher than unarmed white people.
Mapping Police Violence, a research collaborative organization, found that “rates of violent crime in cities did not make it any more or less likely for police departments to kill people. For example, Buffalo and Newark police departments had low rates of police violence despite high crime rates while Spokane and Bakersfield had relatively low crime rates and high rates of police violence.”
Data collected by the Washington Post shows that 23 percent of all those shot and killed by police officers in 2017 were black despite black people making up only 13 percent of the population. These statistics show that Black communities are disproportionately affected by gun violence (and other kinds of violence) from law enforcement. The recent killing of a black male standing in his grandparent’s backyard holding a cellphone has become one more example of senseless gun violence by police officers.
When we discuss the issue of gun violence, we must also think of how different communities are affected by gun violence in different ways. The March for Our Lives movement is a heavy supporter of gun control and mental healthcare, but this proposed solution focuses on civilian gun violence. To be able to limit all gun violence, including that committed by the state, there has to be a discussion on how we can end racially biased police shootings. This discussion needs to include Black voices the same way student voices have now been included. Without giving the many victims of gun violence an opportunity to join the conversation, the solutions this student-led movement may implement won’t be as effective as they could be. If we’re marching for our lives, let’s march for all lives, including black ones.