Here's Why Gang Violence Deserves as Much Outrage as School Shootings

The numbers are stunning.

(Photo: Susan Tusa-Pool/Getty Images)

Jan 30, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Solvej Schou writes regularly for TakePart, and has also contributed to the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, BBC.com, and Entertainment Weekly.

In her five and a half years working at the NAACP, Niaz Kasravi has heard from many members of the civil rights organization who have been personally affected by gun-related violence.

That widespread violence, says Kasravi, director of the association's Criminal Justice Program, includes a staggering number of black boys and teenagers across the United States who are caught in a grip of day-to-day gunfire.

“This is a problem,” she says. “The country often only pays attention to mass shootings such as the ones in Colorado, Sandy Hook, and in Columbine. Those are definitely tragic, but the type of violence we see in poor African American communities of color on a daily basis is heartbreaking and should also be given attention.”

A study published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics culls from a 2009 database tallying 7,391 hospitalizations from firearm-related injuries in young people age 20 and under, and it alarmingly proves Kasravi's point.

Not only were 90 percent of those hospitalized male, but hospitalization rates for gunfire injuries were highest for black children and teenagers. The overall gunfire hospitalization rate for black males was almost 45 percent, 10.5 times higher than the rate for white males. The gunfire hospitalization rate for black teenagers 15 to 19 was a whopping 13 times higher than the rate for white teens in the same age group.

Seventy percent of black children hospitalized for firearm-related injuries were victims of assault, compared with 32 percent of white children injured by guns, according to the study. Another study on black homicide rates by the Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit Violence Policy Center, released last week, finds black Americans are four times more likely to be murdered than the national average, and four out of five black homicide victims are killed with guns.

Economic disparity in urban centers is at the root of this gun violence, from black communities suffering from high rates of unemployment and lack of job opportunity to stagnant wages and decreased funding for education, says Kasravi. There stems the appeal of gangs and drugs.

“Young men of color are exposed to a lot of these issues on a regular basis,” says Kasravi. Referring to the difference between boys and girls on a broader level, and their involvement in gun violence, she adds, “Maybe it’s also a cultural thing—the circles boys hang out with, what boys are exposed to in terms of activities growing up, such as video games, who can say. Boys are socialized to be drawn to that a lot more, whether on TV or by their peers.”

Both Kasravi and Josh Horwitz, executive director of the nonprofit Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, view future change in the form of universal background checks, better gun control laws, stopping the flow of illegal firearms and illegal drugs, and feeding mental health programs to curb violent behavior in not just younger boys and teens but also affected communities across the country.

“Past violence is a great indication of future violence. Make a wall between guns and those behaviors,” says Horwitz.

But beyond disturbing statistics, studies, and reports, there’s also the ongoing desire to insert hope, says Kasravi.

“Unfortunately, gun violence is a sad reality for communities of color in this country,” she says. “The country as a whole has for a while accepted this as just a reality of the community. But we have to begin to turn that discussion back.”