June is Gun Violence Awareness Month

Monday, June 9, 2014

This week we begin a new feature in the DRCPP email and on fortunesociety.org. Periodically, a member of the Fortune Community will offer thoughts, share an experience, or check in with you on an important topic. The conversation begins in our weekly email, the DRCPP and continue here on fortunesociety.org.

June is Gun Violence Awareness Month and Fortune’s Marlon Peterson Provides Context

In 1999, when I was 19 years old, I was arrested and charged with first degree murder, several counts of attempted murder, attempted robbery, and several counts of criminal use of a weapon. I was convicted of first degree assault and third degree weapons possession, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2002.

Twelve years later, seventeen-year old Gakirah Barnes, known on twitter as @tyquanassassin, was gunned down by a barrage of bullets in West Woodlawn, Chicago on Good Friday 2014.  Also known as K I, Barnes was said to have been a part of a younger branch of the Gangster Disciples called the “STL-EBT” crew.  Barnes was rumored to responsible for the death of rival gang members from a nearby housing project.

A deeper look into Gakirah’s family situation discloses that her 13-year old relative named Tyquan Tyler was killed by a stray bullet in 2012, hence the twitter name @tyquannassassin in memory of his life. Gakirah’s twin brother saw his best friend murdered in 2011, and her father was also shot to death on Easter Sunday when she was only a year old; his burial plot lies nearby her own grave. So by the age of 17, Gakirah was had lived through the murder of two family members and at least one family friend—only 17-years old. Gakirah’s murder was just one of five gun-related murders in Chicago over the 2014 Easter weekend, and one of a total 41 shootings during the same period in the same city.

Expressing a warped sense of relief, Gakirah’s mother said to a reporter, “At least I don’t have to constantly worry about what’s going to happen to her out on the street no more” (Swaine). To the mother, and apparently also to Gakirah, death was always a very visible step away; maybe a better predicament.  In fact, one week before her murder Gakirah tweeted the following self-fulfilling prophecy, “I Do Wat I Do Cuz I Kno God Got a day 4 me”(Barnes, G.). The cynic would deduce that her ominous feelings were brought on by the lifestyle that she championed. Her twitter profile picture shows pointing her finger in the form of a gun, and her profile has written in all caps, “PAID SHOOTA,” implying that she might be a killer for hire, supported by the twitter handle, @TyquanAssassin (emphasis added).

The cynic might be right.

But what if the cynic undertook a more complex and protracted examination of the circumstances behind the many murders of Black lives by the hands of other Black folks. Inundated by a 24- hour news cycle and second-to-second news updates of the most recent shooting, cynics and violence interruption professionals who are working diligently to prevent further acts of wanton violence rarely have the time to take a deeper more composite analysis into the problem of gun violence.

What if we took a real look into the experiences of girls like Gakirah and realized that black girls were being killed too? What if we realized that the horrific phenomenon of gun violence, and the accompanying trauma, was not a gender-specific experience? What if we took into consideration that homicide rates among Black girls and women ages 10-24 was higher than any other group of female and higher than white and Asian men as well? What if we stopped avoiding that the fact that firearms deaths for Black girls and women ages 10-24 were 6.5 times higher than white women and girls, according to the African American Policy Forum? This examination would require a holistic approach that syncretized triage with deeper question-seeking and problem-solving.

Moving beyond the triage, a socio-historical examination is necessary to understand why the perpetuation of gun violence is prevalent in urban spaces throughout America. This analysis is essential because imagine if the medical industry did not invest in preventive care and research? Imagine if the way to combat the epidemic of HIV and AIDS was relegated to simplistic and biased explanations like gay men should have sex with one partner, reasoning that the problem and solution to HIV lies within the policing of the gay man’s body. The medical industry might as well join the real-estate industry and spend their resources and time investing in cemetery land growth.

Several years in my 12-year sentence I had the opportunity to feel relevant beyond my experience as a Black man in the system. I participated in a letter-writing program with middle school students from Brooklyn for over a year. I would prepare a lesson plan with a writing prompt for their teacher to implement in their character education class on Friday afternoons. In turn, upwards of 50 students would write me letters bi-weekly, through their teacher. I received letters from boys that told me about their struggles living in around the Fort Greene housing projects, pre- and mid-gentrification. These boys told me about their friends and family members that were killed or locked up. They told me about how tough it was living without enough money. They told me they needed people like me to care for them and I grew because of them. But, more interestingly, the bulk of my letters came from girls who were also telling me about the friends and family members that were killed or in prison. They were telling me about being bullied and bullying others. They were telling me about encounters with the police. They were telling me about gang involvement. They were hurting, too!

I grew because of them. I grew because I understood that my pangs as a Black man in these communities were no more relevant than those of Black girls. I learned that this was a WE problem that required a systems perspective, not a ME problem that saw the problem of violence as a phenomena in isolation of other contributing factors. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
June is Gun Violence Awareness Month in NYS. Let’s use this month as catalyst to taking the deeper look into this epidemic of gun violence . There will be events and community dialogues happening throughout New York City this month that will allow us to raise these critical questions. For a full listing of the month’s activities visit: gunviolenceawarenessmonth.org.

 

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