Black and brown families carry a disproportionate share of our nation’s gun-inflicted pain. Police and policing alone is ineffective and can make matters worse
By Davetta Jackson-Young and Skipp Townsend | The Guardian | April 12, 2019
Nipsey Hussle’s death has shaken many in this country to their core, and as we mourn his passing, we must also confront the hard truths about gun violence in America laid bare by both his death and his commitment to the city he loved.
The tragedies in Parkland, Newtown and Las Vegas galvanized public attention around the issue of gun safety, but the national discourse they inspired overlooked the reality that black and brown families carry a disproportionate share of our nation’s gun-inflicted pain.
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Nationwide, black Americans are 10 times more likely to be shot and killed than their white counterparts. Firearms are the leading cause of death for black children and teens. Low-income communities of color are more likely to be exposed to gun violence, leading to higher rates of major depression, anxiety, substance abuse and PTSD.
But just as our national conversation largely sidesteps the ways in which communities of color unjustly shoulder this burden, it also distorts the path we must take forward. Reacting to violence in black and brown communities, many leap to respond with punishment – more cops on the streets and in our schools, more prisons or harsher penalties for offenders. Others, including politicians, judges and even some voices in communities of color argue that in order for gun violence to end, “black people need to stop killing each other”.
Both of these approaches shut down productive discussions and make people feel like gun violence in communities of color is a cultural or behavioral problem. And there is no shortage of data showing that relying on prisons and policing alone is not only ineffective, but can also make matters worse for the hardest-hit communities.
Those of us who have been active in the fight to curb gun violence in communities of color know that solutions exist – they have just been ignored. Hussle’s dedication and passion for serving his community – evident in the numerous programs he supported, the businesses he created and the tireless energy he repeatedly demonstrated in giving back – are emblematic of a culture of homegrown leadership in black and brown communities that has been on the frontlines for decades.
Across the country, local advocates have been leading groundbreaking efforts to break the cycle of gun violence and strengthen their communities. Touching on everything from youth intervention to combating gender-based violence to closing dangerous loopholes in gun laws, these frontline, community-sourced solutions have been proven to work. And instead of relying on largely white-led progressive groups or fueling an already broken relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, these solutions capitalize on the passion and leadership of those who know their neighborhoods best.
In California, organizations such as Advance Peace are advancing a holistic approach to violence reduction, providing at-risk community members with internships, a mentor network and support for navigating social services. The group’s efforts led to a 66% reduction in firearm assaults in Richmond over seven years and in 2018, Stockton’s mayor, Michael Tubbs, secured funding to implement the program in his city. Stockton is also home to the Stockton Trauma Recovery Center, a community-led facility that empowers victims of gun violence and their families to heal from traumatic experiences, take care of their mental health and work to end gun violence in their communities. In New York, city partnerships with initiatives such as Life Camp led by Erica Ford, a Queens native, contributed to a 15% decline in shootings in the 17 highest violence precincts in New York.Advertisement
Even Hussle’s own home town has seen the lowest levels of homicides in more than 40 years thanks in part to the work of Los Angeles born and bred leaders driving local-level solutions day-in and day-out.
Our nation’s elected leaders at every level must commit to full-scale, sustained investment in locally-driven solutions
Gun violence is an especially complex issue that demands solutions equally comprehensive, but thanks to the tireless efforts of those serving on the ground, we know what works and what doesn’t. But without the right resources and support, we can’t bring the best tools to all the communities in need.
Our nation’s elected leaders at every level must commit to full-scale, sustained investment in locally-driven solutions. Our collective outcry over violence must be matched with an ardent commitment to prioritizing efforts such as intervention programs, mental healthcare, school safety and rigorous research. And while black and brown advocates on the ground are best positioned to lead for their communities, those with political power have a responsibility to empower them to get the job done.
In California, that starts with the governor, Gavin Newsom, and state legislators fully funding the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Program (CalVIP) to support local solutions aimed at reducing gun violence. And here in Los Angeles, municipal leaders also have an opportunity to take a stand at the 8 May budget meeting by authorizing robust funding for intervention and prevention programs.
Last week, Nipsey Hussle became the latest victim of an epidemic of violence whose true impact is often distorted by political agendas, minimized and even ignored. But Hussle’s life and legacy both show that it doesn’t have to be this way. By recognizing the truth behind gun violence in America and supporting the work being done by those closest to the pain, we can create a future driven by solutions that work.