News Column

Gun Violence Growing Threat to Young Blacks

Feb 12, 2013
Gun Violence

On the same day Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx was in Miami for a march in remembrance of a 17-year-old boy killed in a senseless shooting, first lady Michelle Obama went to Chicago to attend the funeral of a 15-year-old girl whose slaying also tests this nation's sobriety. Only a country impaired by selfish individualism can long ignore the bloody carnage that links Trayvon Martin to Hadiya Pendleton.

Martin was killed a year ago as he walked in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head during a light rain. George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman armed with a 9-mm handgun, thought the black teenager looked suspicious and followed him. During a brief struggle, Zimmerman pumped a single bullet into Martin's chest.

An innocent bystander

Pendleton, a high school majorette, was shot in the back while standing in a park just a mile from President Obama's Chicago home. Her death came a week after she had marched in Obama's inaugural parade. Her killer, who is thought to have mistaken Pendleton for a member of a rival gang, has not been captured.

The killing of young blacks is an American pandemic. In 2011, the last year for which the FBI has complete data, 1,668 blacks under the age of 22 were killed in this country. That's more than triple the 469 U.S. servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan that year. An average of eight children was killed each day in 2011, and half of them were black, according to the Children's Defense Fund.

A heavy toll

In 2008 and 2009, black children and teenagers were 15% of the U.S. population but 45% of young people killed by guns. If that doesn't cause a churning in your gut, maybe this will: The leading cause of death for black males ages 15-19 in those years came from the barrel of a gun. Blacks in this age group were eight times more likely than whites and two-and-a-half times more likely than Hispanics to be killed by gunfire, the Children's Defense Fund said in a 2012 report.

Even more shocking, the group said, the number of black children killed by gunfire since 1979 is nearly 13 times more than the number of blacks lynched between 1882 and 1968. In Chicago alone, more than 270 children have been killed by gunfire since 2007. Most of them were killed by other blacks, as are most of this nation's black homicide victims. But the obligation to do something about it belongs to all of us.

This slaughter is also the fault of those who think the answer to youth violence is more prisons, not better schools. It stains the hands of those who oppose efforts to keep weapons meant for war from being sold as freely as a loaf of bread. It is inextricably tied to the members of Congress who kowtow to the National Rifle Association even as the epidemic of school shootings proves that there is no haven for any of our children from the unchecked gun violence that was once seen as largely a fixture of America's ghettos.

While young blacks are now disproportionately the victims of gun violence, this bloodshed is a cancer that if left unchecked will spread to the bedroom communities into which those who think this is not their problem have retreated.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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