Gun violence is rising in Black communities — along with conversations about how to end it.
Before you come for me, we could talk all day about other people committing gun violence — you know — the lone white shooters and their ilk. Or debate the right to bear arms, which Iowa recently voted to add to its constitution. We could discuss policing and poverty. But, those are conversations for another time.
This doesn’t apply to all Black men. We know you’re not a monolith. This is about Black men and the decisions they make that can reverberate throughout our communities. This is ultimately about who is either dying or going to prison because of gun violence. This is about who will be missing from family photos and birthdays and who will be absent from around the table during the holidays.
Black sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, grandsons and grandfathers. Baby dads, homies and bruhs. Whatever you answer to, this is about you.
First, do you understand that we love you? Do you understand we want to see Black men happy and healthy? We know what Black men face in this unfair and unjust society that loves it when Black men ball, but rejoices at their downfall.
All of these beautiful Black children out here need their fathers. They need their mothers, too. Please don’t harm Black women. According to a recent study, homicide rates for Black women in the U.S. have tripled since 2010. We can’t afford to lose you, and we can’t afford to lose Black women to domestic violence either.
The constant headlines are distressing because we know gun violence first dooms two families. Traumatized children will have to constantly have to tell someone that their dad was either murdered or is incarcerated. How long will it take before your son can say his dad was shot to death and not cry? Will your daughter feel embarrassed to explain you’re not in her life because daddy is in prison?
Your parents, no matter their circumstances or involvement in your life, didn’t give birth to you wanting you to kill someone or to be killed.
But now, because of what seems like temporary emotions, your family has to scrape together money to “put you away nice” — if they can afford a funeral at all. Think about your mama in her black dress. Your aunties. The cousins you grew up with who are more like siblings.
How many coins will they put in on your GoFundMe funeral?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe violence as a major public health problem.
- Seven people per hour die a violent death in the U.S. according to the CDC.
- Black Iowans make up 4% of the population, but were 36% of the state’s homicide victims, according to 2016-2020 data from the Iowa Violent Death Reporting System.
- Des Moines has seen 20 homicides so far this year, according to Des Moines police.
- More than 30% of Blacks in Iowa live below the poverty level, compared to 9.3% of whites.
It’s not just a problem in certain cities. Firearm-related homicides have reached a 28-year high in the U.S., according to a recent study:
- Firearm-related homicides are the highest among Black men
- Homicides were most common among Black men aged 20 to 40 years of age
- Black men are about 23 times more likely to experience gun-related homicide than white men
- Gun violence has increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
But I don’t have to inundate you with stats about gun violence to grasp what we’re losing. Look around. Tell us, how long are we supposed to keep doing this?
Maybe the gun is in your hand, and you took another brutha’s life. It’s not just you, though. Every day you’re locked up, your entire family is in prison with you. Your people are raising money to put on your books, or borrowing money for calls. They’re being subjected to humiliating searches on visiting days. The women in your life and your kids pass through metal doors and sit in sterile visiting rooms where they are subjected to the disdainful glares of correctional officers.
They’ll suffer those indignities driving across the state to visit you in some tiny town, inside a place that wasn’t supposed to be a part of your story, or their story. And, for what?
What went wrong? What went through your mind as you pulled a gun? Or, as you fled from one and your life flashed before your eyes — if it did. People will wonder, but we’ll never really know why you forfeited so many lives over so little.
We need Black men to become teachers, creators, cashiers, doctors, bus drivers, construction workers, business owners, coaches and community leaders. For starters. We need you living your life and letting others live theirs. I’m not saying fight with your hands either. Learn a new way to manage your anger and heal from your trauma.
Black men, you have so much potential that will go unrealized if you react with lethal violence to insults, disagreements and perceived instances of disrespect.
Everybody doesn’t have to like you. Like the saying goes: You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. Walk away. Stay home. It’s just like the elders in your family and community have told you as long as you can remember — after a certain hour, ain’t nothing out in these streets but trouble. Maybe you just can’t kick it with certain people anymore. Go home early. Turn away from the trouble — don’t lean into it. Let’s normalize healing and problem-solving.
What can we do? Tell us. Season after season, community leaders have called for unity, healing and change after another incidence of gun violence rocks the community. But even in Polk County, with 25,000 Blacks, far too many of us know shooters and victims. Or several. We know it’s complicated, and nobody has all of the answers. It’s not about blame.
We don’t know what you were thinking about when that bullet ripped through your body. Nor do we understand the expression on your face in your mugshot.
And, for what? You should be at the family BBQ looking for your favorite auntie’s mac and cheese. You should be the one walking up your grandma’s steps to check on her. You should be starting that business you’ve always talked about.
You shouldn’t be causing another Black man or woman’s funeral, or looking casket sharp — prematurely — at your own.
Contemplate that the next time you see somebody you don’t like. Pay attention when the conversation starts to escalate. Watch who is moving wrong around you. If you don’t know how to interrupt the cycle, you can learn how. Understand tomorrow the sun will rise, and you’ll likely have a different perspective on yesterday’s drama. Don’t let a temporary reaction derail your future. The people who love you don’t care about your clique, your gang, or any of your affiliations or some code that doesn’t serve you well.
The Black community has an important message for you: We love you, we need you and we want better for you.
Your rite of passage as a Black man needs to contain more joy. Not candlelight vigils and commissary. Not prison time computations and tears. Tell us how to help you. Tell us what to do to preserve the potential for greatness we know lives within you.
Tell us what to do before your family is draped in black, clutching your funeral program. Tell us what to do before the correctional facility dictates the rest of your days for pennies on the dollar.