Massive hurricanes plague the east coast. Dire earthquakes wreak havoc on the west coast. Both of these natural occurrences are larger than life and tap our imaginations based on their destructive capabilities. Yet, between the east coast and the west coast there lie two catastrophic epidemics that are tearing at the social fabric of America just as hurricanes and earthquakes tear at the physical environment that they encounter. One epidemic touches upon youth and gun violence. The other epidemic touches upon the specter of opioid use. Each epidemic carries extreme destructive forces and exorbitant death tolls.
Gun violence is no stranger to America. However, the wholesale slaughter of our youth at the hands of a gun takes us into strange territory. In one of my classes a discussion arose concerning violence and incarceration. Two mothers of color, one African American and the other Latino expressed grave concern for their respective male children. Being quite aware of the violence in the streets that suck up so many of our children, the mothers were on the verge of tears with dread. For people of color, this dread is two pronged. On one hand there is the reality of gun violence on the streets. On the other hand there is the reality of gun violence at the hands of the police. Many people were appalled at the dash cam footage of the police officer trying to console a distraught White female he had pulled over by telling her the police “only kill black people.” The officer sought to verify his claim by encouraging the woman to recall recent national news footage of police killings. The nation is all too familiar with these shootings and the names of the victims. For example, I was recently found myself thinking about Trayvon. I think about how evil it was that Zimmerman killed that you boy. In Trayvon’s mind he was probably in a hurry to get back to his father’s apartment and watch the NBA All Star game with his brother. He was talking on the phone with a female friend. Their conversation was criminal. Their laughter was probably contagious. No one in the surrounding complex felt threatened by Trayvon. He was just returning from the local store. Yet, Zimmerman was stalking him with evil intent. Unfortunately, during the trial Trayvon was made to look like the criminal simply for fighting to save his own life. He was fighting to live. He was afraid. He was living his last moments on earth. What the Martin death taught us about this gun violence epidemic that has been visited on the Black community is that no one is immune. There are not shots that we can take. There is no immunization that can be administered to protect us. We have been lulled into a deep sleep thinking that teen death at the hands of guns is all gang related. Explain this to Trayvon. Explain this to Jordan Davis. Explain this to Michael Brown. As heinous as gang violence is, it does not account for the whole story. When 911 is also killing you, whom do you call?
Does anyone recall the “War on Drugs?” Does anyone recall when Nancy Reagan said, “Just Say No?” Drugs are the sole purview of any one nationality. However, the War on Drugs seemed targeted toward the Black community. The irony is that the community was targeted in two different methods. First, there is the argument that aspects of the government looked the other way while drugs began to heavily infiltrate the inner cities. More forceful analysis argues that government even had a hand in opening the flood gates to allow drugs to flow into the inner cities. The other method by which the Black community was targeted was through drug enforcement. The incarceration rate skyrocketed beginning in the mid-1980s. Black “thugs” became synonymous with “drugs” in the public eye. Therefore, resources and taxpayer dollars had to be used to enforce the drug laws and keep the menace of the inner city from seeping into the suburbs.
Drugs did seep into the suburbs. However, these drugs did not come at the hands of the inner city. They came in the form of a prescription slip more than likely written by the hand of a White doctor. In 2017 the death toll from drug overdose has reach epidemic proportions. However, there is no war on drugs in the suburbs. State and local governments are spending massive resources on treatment. We are told this treatment is necessary for the disease of drug addiction. Efforts are also being made to bring the criminal justice system in line with treatment. Many Blacks and Latinos should also benefit from this new approach. What is even more astounding is that marijuana is now legal in California, Colorado, and the state of Washington. On second thought, perhaps there can be immunization from gun violence?