OrangeOut: Race & Gun Sense

On a recent Monday, the District of Columbia experienced five shootings, two of which proved fatal. The first fatal shooting, at mid-day, resulted in lockdown of a nearby elementary school; the second occurred at 4 p.m. when many students, particularly from a nearby middle school, are on the street. For too many of our students, this kind of trauma is a regular part of their lives.

“When it comes to American children being exposed to gunfire, these shootings are just the tip of the iceberg. A recent report by the Urban Institute showed that in just a single school district, Washington, DC, there were at least 336 gunshots in the vicinity of schools over just a single school year.”

These facts of life affect students in a number of ways, including a phenomenon known as “toxic stress,” in which sustained levels of trauma actually alter brain architecture.
— see “Youth P.R.O.M.I.S.E. and Gun Violence

What this Urban Institute quote doesn’t stress, however, is how concentrated those gunshots are. (See map here.) In some DC neighborhoods it would be difficult to find someone who has not been directly affected by gun violence. For students at many schools in the same district, however, gunshots are the stuff of TV, films, and video games. The same applies in many urban school districts.

OrangeTintLogoBecause of this divide, the need for trauma-sensitive schools and other supports for young people facing everyday violence often goes unnoticed or unheeded. See “Child Trauma and Education.” This divide also leaves those most affected on the margins of some prominent responses to gun violence. Centering the gun violence narrative around White voices and concerns leads to research, legislation, and program budgets that also marginalize the realities of communities of color. This has powerful and dangerous consequences.

See below for some recent examples.

Orange for Gun Violence Awareness

In 2013, students at King College Prep on Chicago’s South Side launched Project Orange Tree to honor their friend, Hadiya Pendleton, who’d been shot to death earlier that year. The original Project Orange day took place on April 4, the death anniversary of Martin Luther King, and included a fast “to signify eating with the dead.”

By that point, news had spread widely about the death of Hadiya in a public park — a case of mistaken identity, as it turned out — on January 29, not long after performing in DC’s inaugural parade. Her parents, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr, had been invited to the State of the Union. Michelle Obama was scheduled to address a Chicago meeting on youth violence on April 10, focusing her remarks on Hadiya. Project Orange Tee grew far beyond the neighborhood of its origin.

Since then, national organizations have adopted the #WearOrange concept for National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The first such observance was held last year on what would have been Hadiya’s 18th birthday. Orange is identified with gear meant to keep people from becoming inadvertent targets in hunting season. Orange is still the color of the nonviolence effort mounted by Hadiya’s classmates. And Orange is “loud.”

The second annual #WearOrange day comes June 2, 2016.

WARETHorangeMany involved in #WearOrange do acknowledge that there are at least two vastly different experiences with gun violence in this country — depending largely on the color of your community. But much of the most prominent conversation is dominated by White experience. This has dangerous consequences for communities of color whose needs are relegated to asides or footnotes and, therefore, marginalized when it comes time for funding research and policy.

Moreover, every time a film or report (like “Under the Gun,” e.g.) attempts to wedge black experiences into a framework that focuses on mass murder, the narrative — however unintended (a matter for debate, possibly) — makes black experience appear aberrant. This, too, has lasting and dangerous consequences.

This year, We Act Radio, with the Education Town Hall and other programs, will have an “Orange Out” on June 2 to put the needs and voices of the most affected at the center.

Stay tuned — i.e., subscribe to this blog — for updates as #WearOrange Day approaches.

EXAMPLE: the film “Under the Gun”

We don’t hear anything at all from a non-White person until a third of the movie has passed. In the first hour (I confess I couldn’t take more than that), a few persons of color, mostly survivors of gun violence, are interviewed. All analysis comes from White talking heads. Even in the segment on Chicago, which is ostensibly about a black community, we hear very little from black leaders and Father Pfleger somehow gets the first word.

In the first hour, we hear largely from survivors whose circumstances allow them to escape what ordinary residents in communities of color cannot: most survivors in the film are not forced to catch the bus, attend school, or work where they’ve seen police tape or witnessed violence themselves; their own losses were their first brushes with gun violence and will likely be their last. Richard Martinez, whose son was killed in the UC Santa Barbara mass shooting, acknowledges this privilege; others don’t even seem to realize they have it.

Looking at “Take Action” steps on Under the Gun’s website:

Not one “share-the-fact” item relates to disproportion in gun-related death in communities of color or to the trauma youth and adults suffer

The “talking points” omit issues communities of color link with guns: police relations, incarceration and investment in returning citizens (See, e.g. “Memo on Communities of Color“)

The “survivors and experts“section barely touches on conflict resolution, gang interventions, and other solutions shown to reduce gun violence in communities of color

The film, “Under the Gun” is produced by Katie Couric and directed by Stephanie Soechtig. It was released on May 15, 2016 and is now available on the website. Sadly, it has been promoted by gun sense advocates without any acknowledgement of its narrow focus and what that could mean for communities most hard-hit by gun violence.

Peace Officer, by Brad Barber & Scott Christopherson, centers around one particular police shooting, that of a white man in a community that is 90% white. The film does include some additional perspectives, however, and an associated discussion guide explores the disproportionate impact of militarized police on communities of color. (Peace Officer Peace Officer Discussion Guide)

For Holistic Approaches to Gun Violence and Communities of Color, see Say This Name resources here.


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