As a kid from the projects (the barrio, the ‘ghetto’), I can’t remember ever having lived somewhere without gun violence. My mother often tells me the story of when I was a toddler, we were packing up our car to move from one place in the inner-city to another, and she had to throw me into the car and cover me with herself to protect me from people that drove past shooting. Where we’re living now, our first week there, our neighbor was shot and murdered outside of our building. To this day, there is still a hole from a stray bullet that had lodged under a bedroom window in the building next to us. Gunshots have always been a backing soundtrack to my bedtime stories. And I have been complacent within this reality, because where the hell do you even start? These are our brothers, our boys, our children and friends, both in front of, and BEHIND the gun. That’s scary. That is downright terrifying.
Recently, I had the privilege to attend Generation Progress’s first Gun Violence Prevention Summit, #Fight4AFuture. There were 120 youth in attendance, and it got me fired up. I went into the summit fully aware that the issues I currently work in (repro. justice, racial justice, sexual health, LGBTQ issues) intersect more often than not with gun violence. However, I got there and I was surrounded by people with stories that filled the space and made all of it that much more real for me. My complacency is shattered. I have angrily sat by while hearing of the newest Stand Your Ground (SYG) vigilante murders of more of my black and brown brothers and sisters, and I will sit by no longer. After hearing that someone has already lost 28 of their friends before they’ve even turned 18 years of age, the anger that burns within you quickly turns into a fire. If you know me, you’re aware that many fires rage on in my heart, and I am not one to turn away from a fight.
I do not believe it is possible to make substantial progress in our movements if you only have one issue. Going to this summit has given me even more tools, awareness, and resources to work at the intersections. We cannot ignore that in our LGBTQ community, trans* people of color are disproportionately affected by violence. We cannot ignore that women are 5x more likely to be murdered in a domestic violence dispute when a gun is present. We cannot ignore the racial profiling of our youth of color that are ‘stopped-and-frisked’ on a daily basis, stalked while walking home and shot, handcuffed and shot by the very people that our criminal justice system claims are the ones protecting us, and killed by a stray bullet while sleeping in their own room.
I’m not gonna be having any of that, “It’s Black-on-Black crime!” or “It’s all those gangs, they’re so violent,” because we need to dig deeper than that. I trust that we need to be having this conversation. In my personal experiences, some people seek an alternative type of family in ‘gangs’. It is not always so “Bloods” and “Crips”, black and white. Often times, in my experience, people seek safety in these alternative family settings. They are seeking people to protect them from the very violence mentioned earlier. Fear fuels people to do things that our society doesn’t understand all the time. Gangs are founded differently, for different reasons, with different intentions, and admittedly, they aren’t always good. We do have a problem with gang violence in our country. But I am not quick to judge all people that are affiliated or have been, because I’ve been affiliated myself, through friends and family.
These conversations are exactly the ones we need to be having. Where do these systemic roots of this violence come from? How does the criminal justice system often end up being the perpetrators of gun violence? Why are Black and Brown bodies consistently criminalized in our society? Why do people so often see ‘gun violence’ as mass shootings in white, affluent, suburban settings; why does society see gun violence in marginalized communities as commonplace? What can WE do to put in the work and have our communities’ voices heard while preventing these tragedies from happening? If we don’t speak up for our youth of color who are disproportionally affected by gun violence, who will?
I am so grateful to have been in a new space that has started to talk about these issues. I am humbled that I was accepted to attend this summit and further the dialogue from my perspective. Our communities and our movements across all issues have to be present in these conversations. It is not a one-issue thing, and if you haven’t noticed – I am not a one-issue kinda girl. This summit left me passionate and ready to fight. It’s time to get out into our communities and talk. Let’s get real. Let’s show our mommas and our brothas and our sistahs that there is a way out. Let’s show them how we can prevent gun violence by working WITHIN our own communities. Let’s empower our communities to put in the work WITH us, instead of others speaking FOR them. It’s time for us to work on gun violence prevention policy, and also (and maybe even more importantly) our own communities. It’s time to fight like our lives depend on it, because often times, they do. It’s time, because we’re running out of it. I leave you to process with the quote we closed out the summit on:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”– Assata Shakur