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Let’s take a pause from our regularly scheduled Black History Month programming to talk about something that significantly affects our communities and the entire country: gun violence.

Making national news this week are the tragedies of two police officers shot and killed at Bridgewater College in Virginia and another two killed in New York City. Here in Chicago, 55 year old grandmother Bobbye Johnson was ambushed by gunfire and murdered while just walking down the street. There’s likely hundreds of other senseless casualties that didn’t make the news.

Ironically, this is also Gun Violence Survivors Week, an annual tradition in which organizations bring awareness to how the number of deaths incurred by gun violence in the United States surpass those of other countries. Families of lost loved ones share their stories in remembrance and calls to action but sadly, more people will be added to the list next year.

Political solutions to gun violence lacking

Meanwhile at the federal level, the issue remains politicized with the resurrection of battles over strengthening gun laws, police reform and funding. President Joe Biden traveled to New York City to build on a plan of attack his team developed last summer. It’s a plan of attack that looks like the same surface level legislation lawmakers have been shoveling for years. 

Here’s my thing–stop talking about wanting to eradicate gun violence without talking about eradicating the social ills that create gun violence. 

Gun violence has always been an epidemic in marginalized communities and now, a national public health crisis, except no one’s calling it that. Also, we keep turning a blind eye to “why” there’s been an increase in gun violence and, I’d argue that it didn’t really become a larger issue until it started affecting other communities–specifically, school shootings.

Gun violence didn’t become an issue until it affected other communities

Two things are true: People in low-income areas have always been held hostage by gun violence and are constantly in survival mode in a country that refuses to intentionally invest in their quality of life. It’s like the line from the theme song of Good Times, “Keepin’ your head above water, making a wave when you can…scratchin’ and survivin’”, that’s exactly what time it is–but it ain’t good times. It’s The Hunger Games – Extreme Edition. 

Because the pandemic has exacerbated these realities, folk’s desperation to survive by any means necessary is at an all-time high. Particularly for those in underserved communities, wages ain’t keeping up with inflation and mental and emotional health are extremely unstable. At the forefront of their mind is making it to see another day, by any means necessary, which may mean committing criminal and violent acts. 

Where the chaos of gun violence was once somewhat contained to underserved communities, we’re seeing this desperation, frustration and eruption of trauma and mental turmoil spilling into other communities in the form of gun violence and other criminal activity–and now it’s a problem.

Improve quality of life to decrease gun violence

So what’s the answer? I alluded to it above and I’ve said it so many times before–invest in low-income, historically marginalized communities. What that means is giving them more access to quality health facilities, schools, well-paying jobs, grocery stores–increase access to everything that falls under the social determinants of health umbrella and overall, enhances their quality of life. 

Then, and related to Joe nem’s plan, there’s a line in there about “investing in evidence-based community violence interventions”. To most people, “interventions” sound good but when you dig into the language, that means investing in more police. 

The problem is, we live in a society that is selfish and short-sighted. We’re too invested in intervention and not prevention. We’re reactive but not proactive. 

Sure the police can intervene and maybe deter crime from happening in a particular moment. But can they completely stop it? Absolutely not because police aren’t paid or responsible for getting to the root cause of why the crime is happening in the first place.

Adress inequities

And to be clear, I’m not in the “defund the police” camp because if a crime happens, I’m not about to run my ass in the street trying to stop it like I’m a Power Ranger. In fact, there were several shootings on my block alone last year and who did I call? It definitely wasn’t Ghostbusters.

But we have to get it in our and the government’s mind that infusing already over-policed communities with more police isn’t going to stop gun violence or crime, overall. Public safety protection is a tactic, not a remedy.

Bottom line, what’s affected some of us is now affecting all of us. The government cannot continue to ignore poverty, plight and trauma or think they’ll remain segregated from “high society”. Enact all of the laws, reforms and interventions y’all want but America will continue to suffer from the epidemic that is gun violence until it addresses the public health crisis that is inequity and inequality.

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work--"If not me then who?" As a strategist and injustice interrupter, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for radical...

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