Millennials want to see an intersectional understanding of gun violence in America.
Each generation carries its own revolution. For years, gun violence has dramatically impacted communities around the United States, and a movement for gun violence prevention has emerged to respond.
Now, as we reel and rebuild from the results of the presidential election, it is the time for a new generation of organizers to metamorph this movement into one that is intersectional, inclusive and diverse. Young organizers and activists have been left behind by a movement that has focused strongly on background checks, but it also needs to strategically focus on responses that address the intersectional oppressions linked to gun violence.
My experience with gun violence reflects this nuance. In 2008, my Peruvian host sister, Tika Paz de Noboa, was shot and killed while she waited on the street outside a nightclub in Portland, Oregon. A courageous, artistic young woman, a person of Latin American origin, an immigrant—she was murdered by a white man who bought the weapon used to kill her from a gun show, evading regulation background checks that would have picked up on the mental health struggle that eventually ended both my host sister’s life and his own.
The layers of intersectionality in Tika’s case are clear: she was a woman, Latina, Spanish-speaking and new to the US. Was she killed simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the gun show loophole allowed a weapon to be purchased?
Or was she killed because this man fell through the cracks of the mental health care system in the US? Was she killed because rampant xenophobia in the US created cycles of hate against immigrants? Was she killed by misogyny and toxic masculinity that drove this man to shoot this woman?
Background Checks for Gun Sales
Every circumstance of violence is unique, nuanced and complex. Background checks will reduce gun violence, but they will not be effective without understanding the intersectional nature of the oppressions people face.
Nearly 90 Americans are killed by guns every day by a combination of homicides, suicides and accidental shootings. Yet when the statistics are desegregated, intersectional patterns appear: 77% of gun deaths for white Americans are suicides, while 82% of gun deaths for black Americans are homicides. Unarmed black men are six times more likely to die at the hands of police than unarmed white men. And 53% of women murdered with guns in the US were killed by intimate partners.
Our approaches to gun violence prevention must be critically and continually aware of these differences and discrepancies. When we talk about prevention, we need to address the root causes of gun violence rather than act reactively to illogical fallacies.
In November 2015, I was in Paris during the terror attacks. I was downtown when the attacks happened, watching the horror unfold. Police grabbed me, pushing me out of the train station, and I fled, hiding behind cars, shaking and waiting to hear the shots with the people around me. Terrorist attacks occur in the US as well, at an alarming rate. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), from 1980 to 2005, around 94% of these attacks were committed by non-Muslims, yet the media and our public outrage continue to focus on attacks committed by members of the Muslim community.
Throughout the US and Europe, we are witnessing policymakers use these attacks and fear-mongering techniques to justify Islamophobic and xenophobic proposals. This plays into a cycle of discrimination, scapegoating, alienation and violence with our wars abroad against predominantly Muslim countries and attacks of retaliation at home. Gun violence committed by members of the Muslim community is often driven and spurred by our Islamophobia.
Much of the gun violence prevention movement has responded by supporting and promoting an Islamophobic campaign, the No Fly No Buy legislation, which would prevent individuals who are on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from purchasing weapons. This list unfairly and indiscriminately targets innocent Muslim Americans. This campaign is bigoted and reductive and only fuels the hate that inspires attacks such as in Paris, Beirut, San Bernardino and other cities. If we are serious about preventing gun violence, we need to ensure we are not isolating and discriminating against Muslim communities in America.
Looking Under the Surface
To respond to the intersectional and devastating nature of gun violence in America, it is necessary to listen to the experiences of all of our communities, including underrepresented groups such as black, brown, Latin, immigrant, undocumented, LGBTQ, veteran and economically disadvantaged communities.
Many of the currently proposed actions to lower gun violence rates do not address the specific issues of these communities. A strong example is the recent case of Alfred Olango, an unarmed African American man with a seizure disorder, who was killed by police in San Diego in September.
This man was not just a victim of the phenomenon of gun violence, but he was killed by racially unjust patterns of policing that do not value black lives: He was killed by the lack of adequate services available to those the US living with mental illness; he was killed by the oppression of low-income families in America; and he was killed by capitalist corporate greed that drove up the price of seizure medication to make it inaccessible to those without health care. The list goes on.
If we are not addressing all of these oppressions and treating individuals as individuals within a flawed system, then we are not addressing gun violence. Millennials understand this.
It is time for an intersectional approach to gun violence prevention, in order to effectively keep all of our communities safe.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Allkindza