In a recent article published by AP, Black Parkland teenagers verbalized their frustrations with the national focus on gun violence reacting to the tragedy of Parkland – an incident which took the lives of predominately white suburban youth on Feb 14th, 2018.
As harrowing as it may be to confront the current state of gun violence in the United States, the reality is that situations involving gun violence occur daily and the voices of victims of color are repeatedly excluded from the narrative. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that of the 12,979 firearm homicides in 2015, 81 percent occurred in urban areas. Locations plagued by generational poverty are often locations with increased policing, substance abuse, gang violence and therefore increased gun activity. This history is extensive among cities such as Oakland, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore and others whose conversation and criticism has died down since the onset of Parkland, despite the obvious connections.
The national day of gun violence protest spearheaded by the Parkland survivor students in March drew national attention and celebrity endorsement. Recently Parkland teens visited with Chicago teens in effort to discuss the influence of race in the conversation surround gun violence coverage. As the Parkland youth activity continues to be televised by mainstream audiences and media outlets, the tradition of victims of color not being held as empathetically as white victims continues. Gun violence in Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta, and other inner cities environments housing predominately Black and Latino populations continue to experience high rates of gang violence to which have been broadcasted and received little to no celebrity endorsements and public appraisal. Students last week in Miami held a school walk out despite that action itself being a point of concern given gang presence. This continued difference in media coverage treatment creates a silence and stigma that supports a denial of history, denial of victimhood, and a denial of humanity despite the experience that, as stated by pastor of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley, CA, Michael McBride, that “gun violence is an everyday challenge for us.”
Unfortunately, this erasure too is familiar. We have seen this enacted with the media attention and public responses to the efforts of Black Lives Matter protests as well. Common responses branded activists and protesters as “thugs” and “looters.” Racialized language further vilifies populations whose activity in effort to protest against their salient experiences centering gun violence. There exists a disparity between who receives empathy and support from the public. Communities of historic struggle repeatedly are not extended adequate support to improve their surrounding environments.
During her appearance on a panel discussion sponsored by HuffPost, Black Lives Matter Co-Founder, Patrisse Cullors, urges a listening audience to reflect on socieity’s notions of victimhood. Noting the difference in media coverage and public reaction to the Parkland survivors versus the treatment of BLM activists Cullors states, “I think if we want to talk about gun violence, we have to talk about American policing and the fact that Black people are dying at the hands of American police every single day”.
We cannot discuss the state of gun violence in the United States without giving full and proper recognition to the crafted realities of urban cities being deeply affected by it just as much if not more so than the nationwide epidemic. The history of gun violence is one which has violently altered the lives of Black, Latinx, and indigenous peoples residing in the U.S. since the early settler age.
Despite being giving a majority of the national stage, Parkland students do not comprise all of the various concerns relating to gun violence; neither are they only students organizing around solutions. The urban youth organizing efforts in Atlanta, mirror the activity in Boston, Springfield, Miami, Oakland and Chicago. As inner-city youth continue to organize around issues pertinent to them, we should work to invest expansion of the narrative to give a more whole reality and recognition of our country’s situation in the effort to voice to different realities.