The gun violence issue most keenly affects black men in America. While black males are 6 percent of the United States population, they constitute 48 percent of the homicide victims who die by firearms in our nation. On average, about 4,900 black males are killed with guns every single year. Between 2000 and 2010, 53,850 black males died by firearms in America. Between now and 2025, if we don’t act, more than 68,600 black males will face the same untimely death. That means, in a single generation, over 132,000 of our nation’s black men and boys will lose their lives to bullets.
The vast majority of these black males that are dying are young. In 2010, more than half of black male homicide victims were between the ages of 13 and 29. Eighty-six percent were under the age of 40.
Gun violence in black communities, however, is far bigger than the issue of gun reform and whether tougher gun control laws will reduce access to guns. It’s really about concentrated poverty. For black males, issues of gun violence are largely concentrated in distressed neighborhoods within communities.
For several decades, these black communities have lacked the infrastructure and resources to make them viable places to live, work, or raise a family. Jobs left these communities decades ago, so employment prospects are few. Their school districts are struggling, and many fail to graduate half of their students each year. Illegal underground markets and gangs have crept into many of these communities, exposing everyone to less safe neighborhoods. The revitalization of some neighborhoods and the return of higher-income residents has pushed long-time low income residents into further concentrated poverty. It should not be surprising to us that crime and violence have been difficult to contain in these communities.
The absence of opportunity for education and economic self sufficiency makes growing up in these neighborhoods difficult for young people, in particular young black boys. Often, it breeds anger, resentment and hopelessness. When black boys in these communities have no positive prospects and the future before them is empty, what are they supposed to do? What are their options? Only the most resilient are able to overcome the devastation in their communities and families to graduate from high school, complete college, move forward into careers and stable lives. The vast majority are left to their own demise.
Often, the media paints gun violence in black communities as some isolated black-on-black issue that has little relevance for the rest of America. Nothing could be further from the truth. Gun violence, and the ensuing death of young black men, is the ugly byproduct of concentrated poverty and lack of opportunity. Failure to address the issues of concentrated poverty in our communities has implications for the nation as a whole. Lost lives equals lost human capital, lost earning power, and lost innovation.
So, when debating gun violence, the biggest issue to be tackled is not how much we control access to automatic weapons or how long of a waiting period we need when someone applies for a license. The biggest issue we face is transforming our most crime-riddled cities into safe, thriving communities where black men and boys have real opportunities to be educated and employed, have the ability to support themselves and their families, and are able to contribute substantially to the growth of their communities and the nation.
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