By David Love
The city of Baltimore has reached a tragic milestone, as May became its deadliest month in over four decades. Last month, Baltimore experienced 43 homicides, and the city has not seen these numbers since December 1971, when 44 were killed. This news should receive as much attention as the police killing of Freddie Gray, correct? If not, then why not?
The news comes as former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, also former mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007, announced his bid for the Democratic presidential candidacy. In a perfect example of bad timing, O’Malley has come under fire by community activists for installing “zero tolerance” policing and “broken windows” policies as mayor, as well as a data-tracking management tool called CityStat, all of which facilitated a sharp rise in arrests of black people during his tenure.
On Saturday, activists staged a die-in at Federal Hill Park — where O’Malley announced his candidacy — blaming O’Malley’s policies for the death of Freddie Gray, 25, the black man who was killed by a severed spine while in police custody on April 12, 2015. As the former mayor takes credit for a drop in crime in the city, critics question the effectiveness of the former mayor’s tough-on-drugs and stop-and-frisk policies that targeted minor, low level offenses. After all, crime dropped elsewhere around the nation, including cities that did not implement such hardline measures.
Meanwhile, June 2 is National Gun Violence Awareness Day, in honor of Hadiya Pendleton, 15, a Chicago honor student who was shot in the back on January 29, 2013. June 2 would have been her 18th birthday. Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control nonprofit organization, has asked people to wear orange that day to honor the “88 Americans whose lives are cut short by gun violence every day — and the countless survivors whose lives are forever altered by shootings each year.” Orange is the color hunters wear to announce to other hunters they are not targets. And yet, America is a killing field, where nearly 32,000 people — including over 2,800 children — die from gun violence each year. The U.S. is the world leader in gun homicides because it is by far the most heavily-armed nation, with as many as 270 to 310 million guns — one for every American.
This national gun problem is a uniquely American phenomenon, and black communities beyond Baltimore are catching more than their fair share of bullets.
As Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) noted in her 2014 report Gun Violence In America, while African-Americans are 13 percent of the U.S. population, they are 55 percent of gun murder victims. Most white firearm deaths are suicides. Easy access to guns, and little attention paid to socioeconomic or mental health issues, allows minor problems to escalate into deadly scenarios. And this country, unlike others, fails to place restrictions on gun use that would prevent this senseless killing.
“If New Orleans were a country, it would be the second deadliest nation in the world, with a gun murder rate of 62.1 per 100,000 citizens. Detroit’s murder rate mirrors El Salvador,” the report said. “Chicago is a carbon copy of Guyana. Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, has a higher gun homicide rate than Brazil — a nation that has long experienced high crime rates stemming from narcotics trafficking and other violent gang activity.”
In a country where black life is devalued and discounted on a regular basis, rampant gun homicides in places such as Baltimore receive little attention. Yet, this loss of black life to guns is a pressing human rights issue linked to America’s legacy of racial discrimination and bias.
According to a report on African-American gun violence victimization submitted last year to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (or CERD, an international treaty), the U.S. is not upholding its duty to protect life under international law, particularly as it concerns black people.
The report, prepared by the Violence Policy Center, Amnesty International and others, argues that gun violence disproportionately impacts people of color through hate crimes; implicit racial bias as in the case of Stand Your Ground laws; and predominantly black areas kept poor by racial discrimination, where blacks become both victims and perpetrators. Further, the report also notes that despite the disproportionate gun deaths and injuries among blacks — and overwhelming public support for gun control legislation — the U.S. Congress has failed to act but rather has enacted legislation protecting the proliferation of illegal guns. This has been due to the power of the NRA:
The National Rifle Association (NRA) represents a powerful political lobby that has received an estimated tens of millions of dollars from the firearms industry to support political lobbying and firearm marketing efforts. This organization has a documented history, spanning many years, of multiple board members issuing either overt racial slurs or racially insensitive comments without consequence to their position in the organization…..
The NRA uses its financial capital to influence politicians at the state and federal levels of government to support or oppose specific pieces of legislation despite the negative consequences associated with it.
In the 2012 election, the NRA spent $32 million on lobbying. Meanwhile, gun violence reduces black male life expectancy by one year (as opposed to five months for whites), and black men are 7 times more likely to die from firearm homicide than white men.
Moreover, the leading cause of death among black teens is gun homicide. Of the more than 116,000 children killed by guns since 1979, over 44,000 were black — more than 13 times the total number of recorded lynchings of black people between 1882 and 1968.
What we are witnessing is an epidemic of violence, of genocide. But do we have the will to end it?
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove