Missing from conversation: Black youth, the most likely victims of gun violence
By Mel Reeves
President Barack Obama’s visit to Minneapolis last week to discuss gun control and solutions to limit gun violence left more questions unanswered about the country’s commitment to ending gun violence. It also further exposed the disconnect between the Black community’s desire to see gun violence addressed in urban neighborhoods and the White House’s desire to respond to mass shootings such as occurred in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado.
The president was purportedly to have met with community leaders, but upon closer examination, few if any community leaders were included in the roundtable discussion that the president engaged in before giving his speech. No clergy, no real community leaders, no grassroots or Black political activists who may have brought diverse points of view to the table were invited.
And despite the fact that most gun violence victims have been Black youth, none were represented in the roundtable. In fact, the only Blacks present were representatives of government or law enforcement.
The visit was also hailed as an opportunity to learn from what Minneapolis had done to curb its youth murder rate. However, the Minneapolis plan to curb youth violence actually didn’t say much about guns or law enforcement. It focused on time-tested “softer” approaches to youth violence, including connecting isolated young people with adult mentors, treating youth violence as a public health problem (similar to the approaches to dealing with smoking and drunk driving), new jobs programs for unemployed teens, and coordinating resources for at-risk kids in schools.
Though some have doubts about the success and the effectiveness of the Minneapolis effort — gang violence still plagues North Minneapolis — there was an effort that included more youth workers on the street, more afterschool activities, and much-needed summer employment for youth with too much time on their hands. And, youth violence did decline. Yet none of these solutions were mentioned by the president.
Instead, the president’s plan seemed to focus on law enforcement as a solution. While saying it was a “common sense” issue, the president failed to suggest any new or creative remedies. He suggested limiting magazines to 10 rounds and requiring background checks for all gun purchases.
Unfortunately, those measures would not necessarily stem the flow of guns into inner-city neighborhoods. The Minnesota legislature is considering a bill to punish those who buy guns for other people. But as witnessed by the draconian drug laws, some think those laws could have the effect of simply locking up more Black folks, especially Black women.
None of the official solutions appear to be answers to the violence that occurs in the inner city. Study after study has shown that inequality, economic instability and unemployment have played a part in gun violence that plagues U.S. inner cities. But that was not, nor has it been a part of the conversation about stemming violence in the country.
Black Chicagoans are particularly incensed that the president does not include the Chicago murder statistics (510 killed from January 2012 to end of January 2013) in his speeches, where he refers to Newtown, CT and Aurora, CO. Chicagoans are not alone in being concerned about the administration’s reluctance to include inner-city gun violence in the national conversation; there is seldom mention about the inner city violence that plagues cities like Chicago, nor are any solutions being put on the table by the government or local elected officials.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to mreeves@spokes man-recorder.com.