Oct. 24, 2013: A 33-year-old man is shot in the back of the head while playing basketball in Gresham, Ore. Oct. 27, 2013: A 17-year-old boy and 39-year old man are shot and killed in gang-related violence in Chicago. Nov. 5, 2013: Two men are shot to death in Baltimore. A witness told reporters there was nothing he could do: “They’d both been shot in the head. Those were kill shots.”
Day after day, the killings keep coming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven people are shot in America every hour, and 30 people are killed by gunfire each day. In poor communities of color, gun violence has become an epidemic: young black men between the ages of 15 and 19 are nearly five times more likely to die from gunfire than their white peers.
We must stop this epidemic. To do this, we need to limit access to illegal guns, but, more importantly, we have to address the foundational elements that perpetuate this culture of violence.
For the next two weeks, national NAACP leaders will share their thoughts on how we got to this point. From educational opportunity and economic obstacles to health disparities and criminal justice reform, we will look beyond the surface and discuss the complex issues that set the stage for gun violence.
An entire generation is growing up in neighborhoods where violence is no longer the exception but the norm. When schools treat young people like inmates rather than students, gang culture can offer instant validation. When adequate health care is a dream and there are few opportunities to find a decent job, a gun can provide a feeling of absolute control. When prison becomes a rite of passage, a prison mentality starts to set in at home.
We need to create environments where young people can expect a better future—where opportunity can be found in the classroom and job market, not behind the barrel of a gun.
We need to shift the conversation around gun violence to focus on these root causes. If we want to end the killings, we need to improve the environments that breed the despair and apathy that makes young people forget that every life is sacred—even their own.
This series will identify problems and propose a number of concrete solutions. But ultimately our readers will need to stand up in their own communities and fight the status quo. Otherwise we will continue to lose entire generations to the barrage of bullets.
Sammie Dow is the director of the NAACP Youth and College Division. You can follow him on Twitter @SammieDow.