It was in December of 2012 when the nation wept as Adam Lanza–within the span of five minutes–was able to kill twenty-six people with 152 bullets in a Newtown, CT elementary school. Through heated debates, the nation felt an obligation to avenge the deaths of innocent children with an open discourse on gun control laws and discussing the dangerous outcomes that come from allowing people to so easily access dangerous firearms. Yet, because of the post-racial environment in which politics function under today, the debate failed to acknowledge who would actually benefit from such legislation: not suburban America, but urban America–mainly Black and Latino youth, many of which are poor.
What was also missing from this debate was a failure to remember that it was only in the beginning of 2012, not even a year prior to the incidents of Newtown, when a seventeen-year-old African-American by the name of Trayvon Martin was shot in his own neighborhood for wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of skittles. It would take 40 days to arrest and charge his murderer, George Zimmerman, followed by another year to find out justice would not be served as he was acquitted of all charges.
With the Zimmerman verdict last month, Americans’ consciousness woke up. No longer were people willing to accept that America was post racial, but rather they became more aware that the racism that killed Trayvon Martin was the same racism that terrorized African-Americans for the last 400 years, along with an understanding that the same injustice that acquitted Zimmerman was a product of the same injustices that filled so much of an American history which reinforced the doctrine of white-supremacy.
Fast forward almost a year later, just weeks after Obama’s inauguration, we would witness Hadiya Pendleton become another victim of another senseless shooting just blocks from Barack Obama’s Chicago home.
With the circumstances of both Pendleton and Martin put together, now is the time to understand the tragedy of being black in America and discuss ways in which to better them. It’s important to not just acknowledge the role racism played in the death of Trayvon Martin and Hadiya Pendleton, but also what role could adequate gun control laws have played in saving them, along with so many other black youth living in America?
Here is the reality today in America: young black men in America have an eight times greater chance of dying from gun violence than whites. Of cities with the highest murder rates, most of them have majority Black or Latino demographics. When you look at these numbers, it’s impossible to adequately talk about gun control laws without keeping in mind the racial implications of such legislation. It’s impossible to talk about Trayvon Martin, and then not wonder what would have happened had Zimmerman been without a gun.
Whether we choose to accept it or not, a real gun debate means coming to terms with a racist legacy that continues to haunt us today. The ghosts of such a legacy are present at all times. With the circumstances and verdict of Trayvon’s murder, with the shooting of Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago, along with the hundreds of deaths each year of young African-Americans to gun violence, race is continually manifested. We can’t choose when to bring up racism, it’s a matter of being open and honest with ourselves, along with acknowledging the violent reality so many people have to live with.
(This is Part 2 of the “After Trayvon” series. To see Part 1, click here, and follow Soul Latte to be notified of part 3’s publication)