“Tired of running, tired of hunting my own kind, but retiring nothing … I’m dying of thirst. Dying of thirst. How many sins? I’m running out. How many sins? I lost count.”
There are multi-layered threats that continue to stand between Black people and our collective civil rights — police brutality and state violence, yes, but there are also failing school systems, poverty, economic injustice, housing and wage inequality, the school-to-prison pipeline, health disparities, political marginalization, high unemployment rates and an onslaught of harmful media messages. Then there is also the elephant in the room, “the people under the stairs”, the assailants within our own “walls” who are committing heinous acts of violence and terrorism in their own neighborhoods.
The homicide crisis in Black America is nearly four times the national average and continues to grow. Evidence from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence suggests that Black youth ages 12 to 19 are victims of violent crime at significantly higher rates than their white peers and five times more likely to be the victims of homicide specifically. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also reports that homicide is the leading cause of death among African American youth ages 15 to 24.
Black children are constantly victims or witnesses of extremely vicious cycles of violence in their schools and in their communities — from bullying to physical abuse, to sexual abuse, to police brutality, to state violence, to gun violence and gang violence. According to the director of the Division of Violence Prevention at the CDC, Dr. Howard Spivak, “youth living in inner-cities show a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder than soldiers.” In April of 2012, Spivak presented research at a congressional briefing which showed that Black and Latino children are essentially living in combat zones that they cannot escape. He said they experience excessive trauma repeatedly and begin to normalize violence. They adapt to a survival of the fittest culture that often leads to arrested psycho-social development. Then, as a result, their perspective regarding the value of humanity — their own and others — is warped and their moral compass is skewed.
Our nation’s gun violence crisis burdens Black American communities at disturbing rates — four out of five Black homicides are gun related. There are urgent national conversations around gun control when White children are the victims, yet many Black children in the inner-city live under the daily threat of gun-related violence and there has not been the same amount of national attention, outrage, or advocacy. Black youth are being gunned down in cities across the country — by cops, criminals and gang members alike at astronomical rates and yet no one has any answers or solutions? The silence (or the not-as-riled-up-ness) about gun violence in Black communities throughout our nation is deafening and baffling. The “hood” is treated like a community of zombies contained in a small radius. As long as they aren’t affecting and infecting “the others” they are left to eat each other alive — diseased and quarantined without an antidote. This disturbing cycle of urban violence is a pandemic that needs to be treated urgently with scalable cultural, socio-political, emotional, and mental health interventions.
If it was not 2015, if America was not one of the most powerful and affluent nations in the world, if we did not already make so many cultural and technological advancements as a nation, if we didn’t use millions of US dollars to fund other countries’ social and political development — then the lack of action, resolve, and resourcefulness in response to the issue of violence plaguing Black neighborhoods in our country would be less perplexing. However, as a nation, we actually have the research and the resources — the data and the tools — to address these social disparities within our lifetime.
Eradicating the issue of homicide and criminality in our community is directly aligned with addressing the impact of institutionalized racism on education, literacy and social-welfare policies that have negatively impacted Black people for decades. Statistics show that the cycle of violence in Black communities is fueled by the social disparities that Blacks face disproportionately — the homicide rate runs parallel to poverty, joblessness and the education gap specifically.
The Department of Justice states, “the link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” According to the same report, nearly two-thirds of those who cannot read by the fourth grade end up in prison or on welfare and over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level. Even the police chief of Atlanta, Georgia, George Turner, has noticed the connection between failing education systems and criminality in Black communities. In an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish he noted that when his police department examined all of Atlanta’s perpetrators of homicide in the year of 2015, there was only one individual arrested for felony murder who actually finished high school. He concluded that a poor education is a lead indicator for a lifetime of criminality, for long-term or repeated incarceration and for a short life-expectancy. Public schools in poor urban areas face a unique set of challenges that often create unfavorable learning environments that fall short of educating, nourishing and protecting Black youth — oftentimes the classrooms are overcrowded, the teachers are over extended or sometimes under qualified and the funding and resources are sparse. Predominately Black and at-risk children are pushed out of America’s schools and into the criminal justice system at much higher rates.
While it is critical to recognize that the extreme violence and murder in our neighborhoods is directly correlated to systemic oppression — generational poverty, failing schools and other social disparities — we still cannot ignore the assailants from within who constantly threaten the lives and well-being of Black families living in high risk neighborhoods; nor can we shrink away from protecting the Black families who do not have the financial means to flee impoverished and dangerous communities.
Black life is being attacked from all sides and from every angle — our children are being murdered by police and sadistic serial death dealers who look just like us, who live in our communities and who are unchecked regarding their terrorism against Black life — salvaged by wreckless codes of silence. Whether the perpetrator of violence is a police officer, vigilante or gang member — we must be just as deliberate, intentional, and veracious in our fight for justice. We have to acknowledge that the same sickness and perversion that allows a grown man to stalk and kill a teenaged boy returning home from a corner-store (in Florida), or a police officer to shoot and kill a 12-year-old child for playing with a toy gun in a park (in Ohio), or a racist psychopath to murder nine church members during their Bible study (in North Carolina) — is the exact same sickness that allows a vile and monstrous murderer to intentionally execute an innocent 9 year old boy in Chicago.
As much as we’ve gathered to protest and mourn the wrongful deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride and others — we must also gather to publicly protest and mourn the countless deaths caused by the diabolical serial killers perpetuating senseless violence in our communities. We must protest and mourn the death of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee who was purposely lured into an alleyway to be assassinated. We must protest and mourn the death of Johnny Lubin Jr., a 15-year-old highschool student who was randomly shot and killed in a drive-by shooting as he walked home from school in Miami; we must protest and mourn the death of Kaylyn Pryor, a 20-year-old aspiring model, who was shot and killed in Chicago while waiting for the bus on her way home to sign her modeling contract; we must protest and mourn the senseless shooting of 11-year-old Tayloni Mazcyk who was shot in Brooklyn, NY — paralyzed from the neck down — by a gang-banger who thought it was hilarious when he found out his stray bullet hit and injured a child; we must protest and mourn the slaying of 7-year-old Amari Brown in Wisconsin — killed in a shooting on the fourth of July; we must protest and mourn the murder of six-month-old Jonylah Watkins who was killed by a drive-by shooting in Chicago while her father, the intended target, changed her diaper; we must protest and mourn the recent death of one-year-old Maleah Williams of Chapel Hill, NC who was shot in the head on Christmas Day. Like the many victims of police brutality, we must also say the names of our youth impacted by gun-violence in our very own communities.
We cannot stand by idly while certain cities in America continue to look and feel like war zones. We have to hold the offenders who are disturbing the peace in our communities accountable and we have to simultaneously work diligently to break this cycle of violence. Kids should not have to fear being shot or killed while walking to or from school, playing in the park or waiting for the bus. Parents should not have to live in fear that any day could be the last day they see their child. Communities should not be robbed of the right to live free, loving, promising and hopeful lives in safe and healthy neighborhoods.
In cities across the country there has been a tremendous and necessary uprising of activism countering racist terror inflicted on Black life by police and state violence. It is my hope that the powerful surge of action and consciousness sparked by this movement will continue to rise and overflow — emboldening us to be equally driven to seek justice for the Black lives slain by senseless gun violence, gang violence, domestic violence, and all other forms of physical and psychological brutality in our communities. We must address the inner-city violence crisis with as much honesty, force and immediacy as the police brutality crisis. We must be more outspoken, active, and organized in rebuilding programs, systems, and structures that disrupt the normalization of death, despondency and violence. We need to be courageous enough, fed-up enough, and united enough to challenge this issue as one of the many multi-layered threats against Black life.
The artwork in this series has been created by award winning Designer and Creative Director Fuse Green (www.fusegreen.com.)