And so on, and so on, ad nauseum. The list of black people killed or brutalized for possessing imaginary guns stretches towards the horizon. Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Terence Crutcher, and the others comprise a bloody American canon. And then there’s the group of black people killed because an officer believed that they would fire weapons they possessed: Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Keith Lamont Scott, and many others.
In a country currently in the grip of what appears to be an overdue reckoning with its epidemic of gun violence, it’s worth noting that police shootings are also an epidemic of gun violence. They exist alongside a multitude of other forms that run through American society and culture. Gun violence is part of the rising tide of intimate partner violence. Gun violence plays a role in the increase of suicides in black neighborhoods. Gun violence contributes to gang violence, and gun violence includes children accidentally shooting children with their parents’ guns. Gun violence is regular mass shootings in schools, but it’s also the steady attrition of solitary gun deaths here and there, everywhere, in schools in impoverished communities. Gun violence is a deep and primeval component of American life, both on behalf of the state and on behalf of the individuals who make the state.
The recognition and acknowledgement of all of those forms of gun violence exists uneasily with the current conversation being had about gun violence. When viewed in the abstract, it would appear America is in the middle of two distinct conversations about violence, and that those conversations are most often at loggerheads. On the one hand, there are the thousands pouring into the streets this week, as a series of high-profile slayings of black people by police again becomes a major rallying point for resurgent black activism. On the other hand, there are those marching to stop children from being slaughtered in school, a gross violation of the basic social compact that has only increased in frequency over the past years. The movements split along the lines of race and class, and with respect to just who is willing to listen, and to what end.
But they also share plenty of common ground. In the end, both of these movements seek to address American violence, a phenomenon so prevalent and so powerful that it can’t help but manifest in several forms.
The tragedy of the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February unleashed a burst of energy that has uniquely altered what has largely been a moribund American debate. Since then, a group of teenage survivors of that shooting have been elevated to leading roles in the discourse, and they have proven preternaturally prepared, both by experience and by talent, to lead that debate. Rallying around them, activists have led the massive March For Our Lives, shaken pro-gun stalwarts like Florida Governor Rick Scott, and challenged the National Rifle Association. They’ve taken gun-control advocacy to new prominence, a remarkable accomplishment in a country where the Second Amendment has often played an accessory role to racial animae that can seem intractable, if not foundational.