The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s Impacted Community Team is excited to launch “Lives Impacted: Gun Violence Stories from Impacted Communities”, a monthly blog series highlighting this epidemic in the communities most affected, yet rarely discussed.
Last Friday, Clarence Venable was fatally shot leaving a training session on how to become violence interrupter. The program was an effort to take action and reduce the levels of violence in Washington, DC that have been steadily increasing over the past few years. By all media accounts, Clarence was excited about this new position and the opportunity to make a difference in his community.
Sadly, the violence he was seeking to reduce stole his own life. Our hearts go out to Clarence’s family, friends, and community for this horrific tragedy.
We are saddened to say that Clarence’s story is not unique. Nearly 60% of gun homicide victims are Black Americans, despite making up less than 18% of the population. Gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black males under the age of 45. In 2013, a study found that, among Black Americans, the likelihood of having someone in their social network die from gun violence in their lifetime was 95.5%.
These statistics are staggering, yet to so many Americans they are just that. Statistics. Black, brown, and beige Americans are facing an epidemic. A daily onslaught of bullets and funerals that children and families have to live with each day just to survive. Murders within these communities rarely receive the media attention that other gun massacres do. They rarely receive the attention from politicians and lawmakers that other gun violence victims and survivors do. These communities are impacted by mass shootings every single day because of America’s weak and ineffective gun laws. It is time to wake up to this reality.
Gun violence is also fueled by deep inequalities created by racist policies that target communities of color and create segregated and underinvested neighborhoods. Black Americans are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods with underfunded social services, inadequate school systems, a lack of affordable housing, limited access to healthcare, and a lack of economic opportunities. When you lay easy access to guns on top of deeply imbedded injustices, it exacerbates the violence.
This is not a one-fix solution, it requires a multifaceted approach at all levels of society. This solution begins with recognition; the American people, their elected officials, and the media need to recognize that our cities are in crisis. Up and down the iron pipeline of I-95, where firearms are illegally trafficked, the cities of Newport, Richmond, DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia are besieged by an epidemic of gun violence. We must take the following steps to address it, we are calling it the “A-B-C-D” approach:
- Address the underlying social and economic inequalities that fuel gun violence — that means investing in communities and building the infrastructure to create neighborhoods free from gun violence.
- Build and invest in community-based violence interruption programs — like the one that Mr. Venable was so proud to be a part of. These community-based violence intervention programs are essential to breaking the cycle of gun violence in impacted communities.
- Cultivate and support local violence prevention organizations that are embedded within the communities most impacted. National groups sometimes feel they can parachute in and take over for the groups on the ground. We are here to support our community partners with resources, materials, and other assistance, but in order for these efforts to be successful, they must be driven from within the community.
- Demand stronger gun laws. We need stronger laws at the state and federal level to address gun trafficking, enforce domestic violence firearm prohibitions, and reduce the number of guns that we consistently see flow into our city streets.
Clarence Venable should not be another statistic. Black Americans — just like all Americans — deserve the right to live free from gun violence. The communities most affected by this country’s gun violence epidemic are also the ones left out of the conversation.
Citizens, like Clarence Venable, are standing up and addressing violence within their communities.
It is time for the rest of the nation to stand up as well.
We are excited to bring you more “Lives Impacted” throughout the next year.
Kayla Hicks is the Director of African-American and Community Outreach for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. She is a resident of Hampton, Virginia.
Lauren Footman is the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. She is a resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Ari Davis is the Public Health Fellow for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. He is a resident of Washington, DC and a member of the DC Violence Fatality Review Committee.