Over Memorial Day weekend, at least 69 people were shot in Chicago. If past trends continue, most of them are people of color. Mass shootings in places like Newtown, Aurora, and San Bernardino grab national attention, but gun violence is a regular part of life in many communities of color. Among boys and men ages 15-34, for example, African Americans are over 20 times more likely than whites to be victims of gun homicide.
While more attention to gun violence in communities of color is sorely needed, too often existing coverage focuses on “black-on-black” dysfunction rather than structural causes and potential solutions.
A recent New York Times story provides an example. “A Drumbeat of Multiple Shootings, but America is Not Listening” chronicled the victims of 358 shootings with four or more deaths or injuries. Many stemmed from arguments over a petty grievance, an insult, or another sign of disrespect. The story emphasized the “black-on-black” nature of gun violence, and suggested black activists expend too much energy protesting police violence against African Americans and too little energy focused on “routine gun violence.” While the story’s narrative describing the death of an innocent bystander put a compelling face on statistics, the story did not offer meaningful solutions.
The problem of gun violence stems not just from petty grievances among impulsive youth of color, however, but from larger structural issues such as credibility of law enforcement, easy access to guns, and a lack of job skills and opportunities. Communities of color care about both gun violence and police violence. Further, communities of color are not simply sources of problems—they also provide important solutions.
Last month, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the Urban Institute, and the Joyce Foundation released Engaging Communities in Reducing Gun Violence: A Road Map for Safer Communities. Our research debunked the notion that African Americans are less attentive to the problem of gun violence than police violence.
In compiling this report, we brought together and listened to residents of communities hard-hit by gun violence—faith leaders, formerly incarcerated individuals, law enforcement, elected officials, social service providers, community activists, and others. Most of the participants were black or Latino—people like Fathers & Families of San Joaquin Executive Director Sammy Nunez; Petersburg, Virginia, Police Chief John Dixon; and Wanda Montgomery of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Others were members of our steering committee and have devoted their careers to building safer communities—people like Gary, Indiana, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson; Rev. Michael McBride of PICO National Network; and Kayla Hicks of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. We then tested the ideas that emerged against a nationwide survey of 600 African Americans and 600 Latinos conducted by Benenson Strategy Group (BSG) and Ron Lester and Associates.