By Natasha C. Pratt-Harris, Ph.D.,
Special to the AFRO
Pause. Breathe. Think. Pray. Act. The proliferation of violence within our communities does not occur because of moments of osmosis but partly because as a society we have lauded violence. Many use violent language when angered and in some cases it’s applauded. Some make threats and these are egged on. Some follow through and respond with physical violence and then there are those who record and share fights and such. Today our society seems to be in constant shock and respond with justifiable fear and anger when there’s gun violence.
We compartmentalize these moments not necessarily recognizing that there may be a connection between behaviors that are seemingly not as significant as gun violence. If we use language like “I match energy” when describing a response to another’s negative behavior, or say that “I will go to jail” where we promise to respond with physical violence if perceivably necessary, or if we use violent language when there’s disagreement or discord, we are modeling the behaviors that we don’t want to manifest, especially considering that a few respond with deadly force.
In a book chapter for “Why the Police Should be Trained by Black People,” a 20-chapter book that I edited and contributed to, published by Taylor and Francis Routledge in 2022, I wrote chapter 16 “Guns as Hazards to Black Life.” While gun violence is pervasive in the United States impacting every race and creed, where more than 80 percent of White murder victims are killed by a White perpetrator and nearly 90 percent of Black murder victims are killed by a Black perpetrator, I acknowledge that no matter if a gun is illegally or legally obtained, guns are a hazard to all life and specifically Black life. There is a historically disparate rate by which Black people are harmed due to gun violence, although based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2021, the majority of gun deaths victims were White (White = 26,054, Black = 15, 290). The overarching issue is that compared to White victims the following is true based on the CDC:
- Black adults are 10 times more likely than White adults and Black youth are 5 times more likely than White youth to be victims of gun violence
- Black people are three times more likely to be shot and killed by police
- Black people are 18 times more likely to be victims of gun related assaults
- and nearly 70 percent of Black people have either been a victim of gun violence or have a close other who has been a gun violence victim
There’s quite a bit of legislation and debate about how to handle the growing rate of gun violence in the United States and with both there’s always the opportunity to examine why some use guns in the first place.
Given the mass shootings and responses that have occurred in Baltimore city and specifically on the campus of Morgan State University this year, I can’t help but reflect on a moment I experienced that may shed light on the issue. Earlier this year I was in a Baltimore County store and while standing in line to make a purchase, I observed a customer communicate their concern with a pet dog owner about their dog which was in the store. The customer appeared to be afraid of the pet and requested that the pet not be near them. Once the customer expressed concern about the pet a second time, the pet owner yelled and cursed about the request. When the customer noted that “this is how dogs are killed,” the pet owner responded “I am licensed to carry!” I was disturbed by what I heard; first, because of the possible harm to the pet dog and second, because of the response about the possible use of a weapon in response.
It came to me then and is more clear to me now that for some, the go-to response when there’s a conflict may include not only touting the fact that there’s gun ownership but the possibility exists that a licensed to carry gun owner may readily threaten the use of said weapon. Where there’s constant discussion about getting illegal weapons off of the street, it is imperative that there’s an examination of legally owned weapons as well. Legally owned weapons have the same lethal power as an illegally owned weapon. This is made more clear when considering that suicide is the number one form of gun deaths in the United States. Suicides account for more than half of gun deaths in the United States (54 percent), while murder/homicide account for less than half of gun deaths in the United States (43 percent). Often the gun used in a suicide is legally owned. The same holds true for victims of police use of force. A gun used in the death of a civilian by a police officer, is a legally owned weapon.
This brings me back to the notion that “A society that lauds violence is a society that will beget violence.” We live in a society where a response to a request about a pet dog in a store was met with yelling and cursing and patrons who appeared to support this response.
The exchange in the store continued with the matching of energy. When the customer said “this is how” dogs are harmed, the matching response that followed from the dog owner was that they were “licensed to carry.”
What we know about weapons is that opportunity and access to weapons increase the potential for harm to human life. Why are some using guns when there’s a conflict? Part of the answer is simple – they own or carry the weapon, may it be illegal or legal. Thankfully during the exchange at the store, no gun was used but the language and the threat of violence was clear.
Pause. Breathe. Think. Pray. Act. As a people we can actively seek healthy solutions to conflict in our own lives and actively seek means to emulate the behaviors that we would rather see. It is the one thing we can do to honor the many that have been unfortunately injured or lost due to violence. Prayers continue for our Morgan State University family, our schools and colleges, the city of Baltimore, and all of us who deal with the harms of gun violence.
Let’s seek the peace that many of us aspire to achieve and remember, “a people who seek peace are a people that will have peace.”
I’m personally following the lead of the Baltimore Peace Movement.