Black Americans face a crisis of gun-related homicides, from personal disputes to mass shootings, according to figures released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gun deaths have reached their highest level in 25 years and a disproportionate proportion of victims are black, according to the report. Gun deaths were particularly high among young black men and boys between the ages of 10 and 24, compared to white men and boys of the same age.
The CDC figures were released days before a gunman killed 10 people and injured three at a grocery store Saturday in a black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. Eleven of the 13 victims were black. An 18-year-old white male was arrested at the scene.
Gun violence advocates and community groups have said several factors are at play in this disparity in gun deaths, including racial hatred, lack of funding for gun violence prevention programs and disinvestment. in black communities – all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. But that’s why these groups also say their work is more crucial than ever.
Organizers of LIFE Camp, an anti-violence and wellness organization in New York City, are among many advocates calling on officials to allocate more resources to addressing gun violence and its impact on black communities.
“We need to fight the disease of violence and its spread,” Erica Ford, the group’s founder, told NBC News. “It is no accident that a single community is so badly affected.”
Sasha Cotton, director of the Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention, which responded with resources and services and partnered with community groups following the 2020 killing of George Floyd, said the latest mass shooting in Buffalo was part of a larger trend.
“We’ve seen an increase in racially motivated gun violence over the past few years,” Cotton said, noting similar shootings targeting Latinos in Texas in 2019 and Asian women in Atlanta last year. “Ultimately, the convergence of trauma and access to firearms is what creates insecurity, whether it is personal, individual or small group violence or the tragedy of gunfire. mass as we saw in Buffalo this weekend. ”
“Both are traumatic for affected communities. Both cause loss of life, and both have ripple effects,” she added.
“This bullet destroyed this family”
Ford said community groups and officials need to better understand past episodes of violence to prevent future ones.
“The CDC has exposed these things, but we need to do intentional strategic planning on the ground and invest on the ground,” she said. “So we show up different after learning something.”
A stark example comes from a decade ago when Lloyd Morgan, a 4-year-old black boy, was hit by a stray ball at a Bronx playground in 2012 at a memorial for another victim of violence near the same park.
“That bullet destroyed that family,” said Ford, whose organization worked with relatives after the shooting. She added that the prevention tactics after the first fatal murder “could have saved this family”.
Ford said that since first woman was attacked and killed near the park, community groups, and city agencies should have worked together to arbitrate disputes between individuals or redesign the way events unfolded in the park to create a safer environment.
“Who are the individuals on both sides…that we have to look at on this day, work with on this day, so that nothing else comes out of this pain that these people were feeling for the first time?” said Ford. “How do we plan to work with public safety to make sure we keep the two groups away from each other?”
“Where do they get the weapons? »
Cheryl Rivière, Executive Director of Community Safety for The Living Classrooms Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit anti-violence organization, said that even as organizations intervene with social services, a stream of guns continues to flow through neighborhoods.
“We have children who have weapons that come from Afghanistan,” she said. “They may not even know how to get their meal, but they have access to guns. Where do they get these weapons from? »
Earlier this year, Riviere said one of the team members of Safe Streets, the group’s community safety initiative, was shot and killed while mediating gun violence in a neighborhood. .
“We still feel it,” Rivière said. “He was working, talking to one of his participants, trying to get them on the right track.”
The violence also has an economic cost, she said. To address this issue, Rivière proposed an increase in funding to improve infrastructure, including roads and dilapidated houses, which could attract more small businesses to come to the area and support the community.
“When you have communities where gun violence is high, the likelihood of people wanting to reinvest or invest in that community goes down,” Rivière said. “You go to certain neighborhoods where you have people … who are paid to clean the blocks every day, and in communities that are plagued by gun violence, that’s not happening.”
Solutions to gun violence
To deal with the influx of guns onto the streets and to help prevent mass shootings, Cotton proposed stricter gun control policies at the federal, state, and local levels. She also called on officials to increase investment in strategies that defuse and stop future violence.
“What our communities need is a comprehensive system, just like health care, which requires prevention, intervention, quarantine, tracking,” Cotton said. “Until we take this seriously and use available resources to fund all of these things, we will continue to experience the same problems.”
Ford said passing the Build Back Better Act, which would provide strong funding, programs and services to the public, could help close the gaps of lack of resources, including investments in youth, playgrounds games and mental health care. (The Building back better passed in the House last November but stalled in the Senate.)
“There needs to be PeaceMobiles across the United States, so that we can really come in and work intentionally with people who are impacted by trauma, who are being shot, whose families are losing loved ones,” said Ford, whose organization operates a peace bus in New York, providing free access to wellness services.
Rana Ryan, a licensed clinical psychotherapist in Buffalo, said another gap is the lack of culturally competent mental health resources available on the ground. Many of her clients face additional stressors, she said, including a lack of transportation, cell service and internet connection, which makes it harder to connect to care.
“There are not enough African Americans who are clinically trained in this area of trauma and social work to meet the needs of this population, especially in Buffalo,” Ryan said. “We need more black workers if you’re going to work in a black community. It takes education and training to understand generational oppression.
In Wisconsin, Debra Gillispie, the founder of Mothers Against Gun Violence in Milwaukee, offered to provide increased access to property for working-class populations, as well as job opportunities and counseling.
“The owners are invested in the community,” said Gillispie, who started the organization after the shooting death of her son. “We want to make sure that our community is safe…and that we maintain or increase the value of our property and that we have long-term people in our community who are invested as well.”
The black trans community also faces disproportionate rates of gun violence, with black trans women making up the majority of gun deaths. A 2020 report of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun advocacy group, found that 75% of trans people killed in the United States were killed with a gun.
“We are seeing a growing prevalence of domestic violence among members of the TGNC (transgender and gender non-conforming) community that has not been properly addressed,” said Sean Ebony Coleman, founder of Destination Tomorrow, an LGBTQ hub. in the Bronx and Atlanta. “Working to develop programs and services for TGNC people experiencing this form of violence is imperative.”
So far this year, six transgender and gender nonconforming people across the United States have been killed in anti-trans violence; most of the victims were trans women of color, according to the human rights campaign.
A focus on gun violence prevention strategies and stronger policies is key, Cotton said, to creating a safer world.
“How much loss of life do we still have to bear? asked Cotton. “Whether it’s in our black and brown communities, the mass shootings, the suicides. Ultimately, they all result in loss of life and tragedy, and guns are part of a problem that our communities and societies have simply been unwilling to address.