THE ENEMY WITHIN

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Dr. Julianne Malveaux

By Julianne Malveaux

At least six Black children were killed during the Fourth of You Lie weekend. They weren’t doing anything wrong, just attending a community picnic, or going to visit a grandmother, or riding in a car with her mom. One of the children, Secoriea Turner, 8, was an Atlantan, and the day after the killing, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, emotionally addressed the killers, “You shot and killed a baby,” she said.

“This random wild, wild West, shoot ’em up because you can, it has got to stop. It has to stop.” She went on to say, “Enough is enough. You can’t blame this on a police officer. You can’t say this is about criminal justice reform. This is about some people carrying weapons who shot up a car with an 8-year-old baby in the car. For what?”

In Washington, D.C., 11-year-old Devon McNeal, ironically attending an antiviolence cookout organized by his mother, was shot in the head by a bullet. An 18-year old has been arrested, and there are two other suspects. In Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and New York, our children are being murdered. We can get thousands to the streets for a Black Lives Matter protest. How many can we get out for Natalia, 7, killed in Chicago, or Jace Young, 6, the San Franciscan who was killed attending a birthday party?

In 2019, 692 children (0-11) were killed or injured, up from 2014, when 603 were killed or wounded. The Gun Violence Archive, (gunviolencearchive.org), which has been counting gun deaths since 2013, says there were 733 child deaths or injuries in 2017, the peak year since they began collecting the data. The murdered children are never the intended victims. Instead, somebody with more firepower than sense, shoots into a crowded gathering, not caring who they hit. And they’ve been killing our children.

I could write dissertations about why angry and unemployed young men are running around with guns, settling scores, and securing reputations with no regard for others. But I’m sick of the sociological explanations and the excuses. I’m with Mayor Bottoms. Enough is enough.

How do we stop it, though? Devon McNeal’s mother, Crystal, is an antiviolence activist. She organized her gathering to promote the end of violence. But she could not protect her baby boy since all the antiviolence talk in the world can’t protect a child from a fool who is determined to use their weapon to rob, kill, or intimidate.

How do we dismantle the gun culture that dominates so many of our inner cities? Will it take new laws? Harsher penalties for illegal gun use? As Mayor Bottoms said, this is not about the police.

Conservatives are right to say we may lose fewer Black lives to police violence than to street gun violence. It doesn’t matter, because every George Floyd, Tamir Rice, and Breonna Taylor matters. To lose lives because of police indifference, racism, and evil must be resisted, and the Black Lives Matter Movement does that effectively. Black Lives Matter street signs in Washington, D.C., and New York speak to that.

Even as we resist police brutality, structural racism, and other inequities, we must fight the enemy within, the callous young men who engage in gunplay on public streets when anybody could be walking by. How to get through to them?

Cornel West once described these young men as nihilistic, believing that life has no intrinsic value, simply not caring about social norms and moral values. Anyone who would shoot a deadly weapon into a crowd has no regard for human life. And perhaps one could argue that these young men do not value human life because human life has not valued them. But I’m sick of making excuses for sociopaths, even as I understand the forces that created them. These shootings have to stop!

I love looking at Black children, looking at their small, partly unformed faces, and wonder what kind of adults they will evolve into. Too many gun-toting criminals ensure that some of our children won’t have the opportunity to grow up. Class differences among African Americans mean that some fall asleep to the sounds of gunfire, while others know shooting from television. When we say it takes a village to raise a child, what happens to the villagers that would rob a child of life?

We need to call these villains out. We need to ask their associates to call them out. Enough is enough. When you say Black Lives Matter, when you march and chant, think of 11-year Devon McNeil, six-year old Jace Young, eight-year old Secoriea Turner, or seven-year-old Natalia Wallace. Their Black lives matter, too. What must we do to protect our children?

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author based in Washington, D.C.

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