U.S. gun violence and #blacklivesmatter

Two different incidents on Twitter caught my eye recently, and I have wondered if they are related.

ESPN talking head Bomani Jones tweeted a link to a Guardian article titled, “Horror, live for all to see: another week in American gun violence.” The article was specifically about two recent events in the United States: two journalists were shot to death on live television by a disgruntled former employee, and a 14-year old boy held his class and teacher hostage with firearm. But, more broadly, the piece was about the culture of gun violence in the U.S. that leads to 88 deaths per day due to shootings (about 32,000 a year).

Jones editorialized, “the world now gawks at us like we did south america and the middle east in the ‘80s and ‘90s. and it should.” 

In an incident that superficially seems unrelated, NBA player Kendall Marshall was criticized on Twitter by a fan for using the “#blacklivesmatter” hashtag made popular following Michael Brown’s death from police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. (I will not name the fan because s(he) is not a public figure.) That fan thought that Marshall should instead use the “#alllivesmatter” hashtag. Moreover, that fan thought Marshall was only using #blacklivesmatter to increase his “street cred.”

Marshall sarcastically replied, “street cred babyyyyy.” 

Both overall U.S. gun deaths and deaths by police shooting have a racial tinge. The Pew Research Group claims that, though blacks represent just 13% of the U.S. population they comprise 55% of the shooting homicide victims (homicides were not quite 2/3 of all gun deaths over the studied time period). In terms of police shootings, CUNY assistant professor Peter Moskos claims that blacks are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than whites. However Moskos did clarify that, when adjusted for the homicide and felonious crime rates, whites were more likely to be killed by police than blacks. (Methodological quandaries abound with all of these measurements.)

Drawing meaning from these numbers is difficult at best, but in terms of the population blacks are more likely to die from a firearm in the United States than whites. The potential reasons for that are varied, and a Google search will turn up quite a few of those. Many of those explanations are politically colored, and thus I will not proffer my own.

What does seem obvious to me, however, is that gun violence is a significant problem in this country. I have no idea how to fix that, but we as a nation should want to try. And we must realize that, amidst all those gun deaths, the black community bears a disproportionate amount of the carnage. It is no surprise that #blacklivesmatter became popular.

In the end, I think the Guardian story provided me an overall context to the debate about #blacklivesmatter vs. #alllivesmatter. Of course all lives matter—saying otherwise is nonsensical. But, considering the context that blacks are indeed more likely to die from gun deaths, is it any surprise that so many people have found it necessary to insist that black lives do indeed matter?

The #blacklivesmatter campaign is not an about saying that only black lives matter, but instead an insistence that black lives be considered part of all lives. Thus the phrases #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter should be synonymous (even if #alllivesmatter started largely in opposition to #blacklivesmatter as an attempt to derail that movement). But, political disharmony being what it is, often proponents of the two phrases see themselves as antithetical to the other.

The Guardian article and Bomani Jones’ commentary combined with Kendall Marshall’s confrontation with a fan demonstrate several things to me: (1) gun violence in the United States is a serious problem; (2) black bodies disproportionately bear that violence; (3) we need to de-politicize the idea of stopping gun deaths; (4) we need to respect that, no matter the reasons why they are more likely to be shot, the black community is right to be hurt, demand change, and insist that their lives matter as much as white’s.

I have no idea how to fix any of these problems, and I fear that venturing a guess how to do so would show my ignorance in one way or another. Really, I guess I am just sad that we would let so many of our fellow countrypersons, of all races but especially minorities, die without making an honest attempt, as a nation, to do something to change that.