Black adolescents most affected by gun violence, study finds

By Danielle Banks

A study released Jan. 27 found that in 2009, about 20 adolescents a day were hospitalized for gun violence. Black males accounted for the majority of these hospitalizations, with about 10 black adolescents hospitalized a day. The total number of assaults was 4,559: 2,455, or 53.8%, were black.

Jessicia Morris, a 22-year-old gang member turned Violence Interrupter at CeaseFire Roseland said this adolescent group represents a generation of “no tomorrow.”  

“Our whole generation has been labeled as the generation of ‘no tomorrow,’ just based on what’s going on right now in this society,” she said. “At first it was people from the ages of 14-21 dying, but now you’ve got babies getting shot, gun violence is taking over, babies are being shot because of a mistake that our generation is making.”

Morris said the price of being in a gang proved too high, and relayed the experience that brought this realization.

“I was sitting on top of a Red Eye box and some man came down the street in a car, and he was like ‘when I come back around here, y’all better be off this corner,’” she said.

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She and her friends didn’t think anything of it.

“About 20, 30 minutes later, he came back … shooting,” she said. “Instead of me ducking, I tried to run, and as soon as I got-up off of the Red Eye box, I got shot in the knee. It went right through. I had to get a whole new kneecap. I was angry and scared at the same time. I thought about retaliating, but I couldn’t retaliate because I was scared to go outside after that.”

Executive Director of CeaseFire Roseland Bob Jackson said education makes situations like Morris’ preventable. 

“In other cultures, especially in the Caucasian cultures, they teach their kids that guns are weapons — not play toys,” he said. “They learn how to respect guns as being used for hunting and sport. In our community, our kids are not taught the value of a gun … I think the lack of education about guns plays a major role.”

Toussaint Losier, a chancellor’s post doctoral fellow in African American Studies at the University, said education is not the only cultural difference driving the racial divide in the statistics — poverty also plays a major role. 

“One of the most significant distinctions between the circumstances facing children in poverty is that black children face a significantly higher rate of chronic poverty,” he said.

Losier defines chronic poverty as living in poverty for longer than three years. In his research, he found that black children are more likely than white children to fall victim to it.

While all impoverished communities are disadvantaged, Losier said the effect is more crippling on those who experience it chronically.

“Chronic, inter-generational poverty that offers families few opportunities to improve their circumstances plays a direct role in the rate of gun violence among black youth,” he said. “Poverty plays a direct role in shaping not only how few opportunities families have, but also the way in which impoverished children understand themselves as being destined to die at an early age.”

Morris testifies to this issue, as she feels her “generation of no tomorrow” was taught their misbehavior.  

“It’s not really on us, though because we are only doing what we see our parents do, or what our parents allow us to do,” she said.

She added that innocent people aren’t safe because there are so many unskilled shooters, and innocents can be trapped in the crossfire.

This feeling of being trapped is one Losier said has been plaguing the black community for generations now.

“Through chattel slavery, black families were treated as property, a mechanism for creating wealth,” he said. “Even though slavery was abolished nearly 150 years ago, black families have consistently been locked out of opportunities and mechanisms for creating wealth and locked into poverty traps.”

In these poverty traps, Jackson said the media glorifies violent culture.

“Violence in our community is being romanticized by records and the rap industry. It’s giving (black adolescents) the idea that it’s cool to have a gun,” he said. “These images do not reflect love, peace, family, saving the community — it’s about destruction … Look at what they’re doing (through media): guns, money and drugs. Does that really depict the black community? No.”

Working with CeaseFire, Jackson said he sees the teen gun violence rates played out in real life. He finds that the only way to lower them will be through education.

“(We) expose them to what gun violence really is. We’re trying to change their mindset,” he said. “What happened to ‘I’m black and I’m proud’? What happened to black power? I think it’s over their heads to remind them what King (and) Malcolm … died for.”

Losier finds statistics like these to be an oversimplified reflection of black youth, instead of reflecting the nation’s poor regard for issues that affect black youths, such as unequal education, hunger, illiteracy, poor health, inadequate housing and other issues.

“The statistics only scratch the surface in terms of giving us a sense of the vulnerabilities facing black children, particularly for those with few opportunities to pull themselves out of poverty,” he said. “Rather than simply focusing on gun control as the solution to the problem of gun violence, national efforts need to be centered around ending poverty, particularly amongst children.” 

Danielle can be reached at [email protected].