By Martha Durkee-Neuman
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 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 needs to also 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 color, 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 gun 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? Every circumstance of violence is unique and nuanced and complex; background checks will reduce gun violence but will not be effective without understanding the intersectional nature of the oppressions people face.
Nearly ninety 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. 53% of women murdered with guns in the U.S. 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 2015, I was in Paris during the attacks of terror on the city. 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. 94% of these attacks are 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 policy-makers use these 6% of attacks, and fear-mongering techniques to justify Islamaphobic 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 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.
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, Latinx, immigrant, undocumented, LGBTQ, trans, 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 of this year. 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 healthcare. 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. A grassroots, millennial-led, effort is underway to discuss strategies available to counter the tide of gun violence. Strength in Synergy: An Intersectional Summit to End Gun Violence will bring together members and advocates from different communities and movements including gun violence prevention, LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights, domestic violence prevention, Palestinian human rights, faith-based organizing, and others. The event is an all-day summit at American University in Washington D.C. on December 10th from 9:30am - 6:00pm, the conference is free and registration is available at this link. All are welcome to build a new, inclusive, movement for human rights, safety, and human dignity.
Martha Durkee-Neuman is a gun violence prevention and reproductive justice advocate and organizer from Washington State, a student of Human Services at Northeastern University, and current co-producer of the 2016 Strength in Synergy Summit.
Visit www.strengthinsynergy.com for more information.