Do white children have to die for lawmakers to give a shit?
The trauma being faced by the surviving children of the Newtown school massacre is a daily reality for their mostly poor black and brown counterparts in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
That’s because gun violence is most prevalent in America’s impoverished inner-cities, where researchers say the PTSD rate could be as high as 40 percent, similar to war zones like Afghanistan. That means just under half of the people living in urban poor communities are suffering from “intrusive, upsetting memories; nightmares; chronic anxiety and fear; memory loss; diminished interest in life; emotional numbing and angry outbursts.”
Though African American children represent just 15 percent of the nation’s child population, they made up 45 percent of child gun deaths in 2008 and 2009, according to an analysis by the Children’s Defense Fund. In Chicago, nearly 700 children were shot in 2011. Between March 2011 and March 2012, 107 Chicago children and youths under the age of 20 were killed by gun violence. Yet, these children’s short lives, personalities and dreams are rarely given nationwide coverage like the victims of the Sandy Hook mass shooting. Instead, they’re subtly referenced in local news headlines as nameless statistics.
That’s not to say that the children killed in Newton, Connecticut shouldn’t receive coverage, they absolutely should. But so should the black children whose communities bear the brunt of lax gun laws all around the country.
Since 2001, over 5,000 people have been killed in Chicago’s gun violence, far outpacing the 2,000 of soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the war began. Yet it took the massacre of 20 suburban, middle class, overwhelmingly white children for citizens and (some) politicians to collectively demand gun control, sending the message that the black lives are valued less than white ones.
The irony is that Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws on the books. But guns continue to flood the city, with those used in crime scenes coming mostly from the white suburbs of Illinois and Indiana. In fact, half of the guns traced to crime scenes nationwide come from just 10 states with lax gun laws: Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alaska, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Nevada, and Georgia. For every city that restricts firearms, there appears to be a Southern, historically racist state whose guns will fill the void, guns that exist in high numbers so that the white Republican male leadership of the NRA can keep their assault rifles.
As Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund, says, policies pushed by the “gun lobby” impede “the ability of cities to develop local solutions to gun violence in their communities.”
Another striking finding from the Children’s Defense Fund analysis is that, “The top cause of death for black teens ages 15 to 19 was gun homicide, while for white teens it was motor vehicle accidents followed by gun homicides” (Be sure to check out these fantastic graphics put together by Colorlines). The difference is that the number of white teens killed in car accidents has declined by half in the last two decades thanks to a nationwide campaign to curb drinking and driving, a crime committed most often by white teens. These steps were taken despite the impact regulations and stricter enforcement might have on alcohol profits because middle class (mostly white) mothers said “enough is enough”. It’s hard not to notice the sensitive approach to this largely white problem, as white teens who rack up excessive DUI’s are punished with community service, license suspensions and AA classes, while young black men rot away in jail cells disenfranchised for life for harmless crimes like marijuana possession.
As lax gun laws increasingly affect the white suburbs, Kell Golf at The Root notes how gun control could move in a similar direction:
After Columbine, some newly inspired gun-control activists, many of them upper-middle-class mothers from predominantly white communities, expressed regret to mothers of color for not being involved in the fight for gun control earlier, when gun violence claimed the lives of kids who didn’t grow up in leafy suburbs and whose deaths were not likely to garner extensive coverage on the nightly news. The activism ignited by Columbine resulted in more stringent gun control laws and more diligent enforcement of existing laws, particularly on the state level.
Our supposedly “post-racial” society is telling poor children of color that they’re basically fucked until their reality leaks into the lives of middle class white kids. Only then will lawmakers apparently give a shit.
Update: I want to add that that this racial disparity extends to other issues as well. Take the economic crisis that hit in 2008, brining with it massive unemployment and foreclosure. For communities of color, particularly black communities, foreclosure and joblessness were crises long before 2008, it just wasn’t worthy of coverage. Many of the problems affecting our nation seem to hit communities of color the hardest. I bet if the Americans payed more attention to these neighborhoods, they could (a) learn a thing or two about tomorrow’s white tragedy, and (b) join one another in solidarity to ensure that all children get a chance at a safe an prosperous future.
Furthermore, it’s just as important to remember that the children of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Gaza, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo and more countries than I can name in a single blog post, are maimed and killed due to US policies that have stolen their childhoods. Whether they’re slaughtered in US drone strikes or drug war fueled carnage, these children are no less important than the little one’s massacred in Chicago and Newton.
Another Update: Think Progress has a list of 10 typically pro-gun lawmakers who have expressed a willingness to support gun control legislation following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This is wonderful news, but again, where were these lawmakers over the summer when dozens of people were routinely getting shot in Chicago each and every weekend?