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Activists hope anti-gun movement tackles violence in poor communities too

While activists support calls for gun reform, some are hoping the momentum can also highlight violence in minority neighborhoods

By Adam Gabbatt | The Guardian in New York | March 23, 2018


While hailing the success of the anti-gun movement that has led to Saturday’s March for Our Lives, some activists are urging that that momentum should also be used to tackle gun violence in poor and minority communities.

Saturday’s rally is expected to bring up to 500,000 people to Washington DC alone, while more than 800 “sibling marches” will also take place around the world.

The demonstration, which is being led by survivors of the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, in Parkland, Florida, calls for politicians to ban semi-automatic rifles, high capacity magazines and close gun law loopholes in a bid to curb mass shootings.

Those measures have widespread support among gun control advocates. But some long-time gun violence activists are hoping that the movement can go even further.

“I’m so enamoured at how the Parkland students have really been able to take charge of the media and use it to their benefit,” said Ronnie Mosley, a Chicago-based community organizer who has spent years working to tackle gun violence.

“Unfortunately we don’t always see the same thing in black and brown communities. So I’m cautiously optimistic about the present moment, but I hope that the marches are an opportunity to work on our communities.”

Mosley, who, growing up in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood, has seen friends and classmates die in shootings , was among the speakers at the Urban Gun Violence Town Hall, in Atlanta on Thursday night.

The event was organized by the National Black Brown Gun Violence Prevention Consortium – a collaboration of community organizations which work in black and other minority neighborhoods.

Activists came from inner-cities across the country – from Chicago, Oakland, New York City, Miami and beyond – to discuss whether the desire for gun reform can be channelled towards preventing everyday gun violence.

“Background checks and assault weapons bans – this doesn’t solve all the gun violence. It doesn’t solve why people want to take up a gun,” Mosley told the Guardian. “I’m so fearful that once this banner goes up of ‘mission accomplished’ that we won’t talk about high unemployment rates, or how people can’t find a job. How they’re told that every door of opportunity is closed for them but prison.”

Speaking at the Urban Gun Violence town hall, organizers praised the work of those involved in the march, but some were exasperated that killings in black and Latino communities – which are disproportionately affected by gun violence – do not attract the same attention, and said that any reforms should go further.

Michael McBride, the director of the Live Free campaign, which aims to curb gun deaths, said that while politicians talk about gun control in the aftermath of mass shootings, they have less appetite for discussing how to reduce community gun violence.

Activists need to work together, McBride said, because “a disorganized truth will not defeat an organized lie”.

“There is an organized lie that loves to talk only about the shootings that happen in schools and malls and affluent communities, but keeps silent about shootings in our community,” he told the audience. “Every day we have enough loved ones dying in our communities to equal a mass shooting. And it’s because our communities have been disinvested from.”

It is not just long-time organizers who sense there is an opportunity.

Jaelah Jackson, a 15-year-old high school student from East New York in Brooklyn, New York, is planning to attend the March for Our Lives “sibling march” in New York City on Saturday. She took part in a walkout at her school, the Academy for Young Writers in Spring Creek, Brooklyn, on 14 March.

“It’s a very diverse school so you have more black kids and Hispanic kids more than you’ll see white kids. Our neighborhood is predominantly Hispanic and black kids,” Jackson said.

Jackson said some friends and classmates had been talking about how “if it was black students being shot or shot at there wouldn’t be a whole movement”.

“But we can use it as an advantage to us,” she said. “We can use what happened there to really get our problems out and let people know what happens to us.”

Mosley said for real change on gun violence to occur, politicians need to focus on the “how it happens and why it happens”. It’s about community organizing at a local level, Mosley said, but also increasing opportunities for impoverished neighborhoods.

In the meantime, though, he said the success of March for Our Lives could be educational for future activists “to see how you can organize on a very large scale”.

There are some signs that that educational aspect is already taking effect.

Zainab Jagun, a 17-year-old who, like Jaelah Jackson, studies at the Academy for Young Writers in Spring Creek, was not at the event in Atlanta but seemed to echo Mosley’s sentiments.

“As I see the youth taking power over this movement I am proud,” Jagun said. “Because it is not only showing that we have power and a say in what goes on in our government, it shows that the youth have a voice and can do things.”

Jagun lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which has had its own problems with violence.

“I’m a black woman and not only does it affect me, it affects my father, brother and uncles. Just being a black woman in America, it’s not only a fear for myself, it’s also a fear for males in my life,” she said.

When Jagun took part in the walkout on 14 March she carried a sign which condemned school shootings, but also said: “We walk out for the black community.” For her, and others, the hope is that Saturday’s march can kickstart a discussion on gun violence in all aspects of society.

“Instead of it being a conversation that pops up when tragedies like mass shootings happen, it should be an everyday conversation on how to improve these things.

“The solution shouldn’t only affect white communities, but also have a positive impact on minority communities, where there are hispanics and blacks being plagued by this problem everyday.”

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