by Julianne Malveaux
Trayvon Martin might not be dead except for the fact that George Zimmerman carried a gun around and acted as a wanna-be policeman. Rev. Al Sharpton and others deserve props for rallying people and insisting that Zimmerman be brought to trial. Anytime a gun goes off, I think somebody has to go to trial, simply to ensure that their actions be accounted for. Zimmerman may be found not guilty, or he may (should) be found guilty, but least, at this point, he has been made accountable for his actions.
Zimmerman isn’t the only one slaughtering young black men, though. Too many of our young brothers are slaughtering each other. In Washington, DC, rising senior Omar Adam Sykes was killed on “independence” day. He was a victim of an attempted robbery, when two men approached him and a friend of his with guns. The Howard University police say that robberies on campus are on the decline, but I don’t think that Omar Sykes’ parents find that any consolation. Indeed, one young black man lost to gun violence is too many, whether the perpetrator was a vigilante like George Zimmerman, or another young black man who is so desperate for dollars that he will kill another brother.
Seventy-four people were shot, and a dozen killed in gun violence in Chicago during the July 4 weekend. Two of them were young boys, aged 5 and 7. Much of this violence is gang violence, and too many of the victims were in the wrong place at the wrong time. No matter. This scourge of gun violence is a plague on our nation, but especially on the African American community.
The online website Slate estimates that more than 6500 people have been killed this year through gun violence. The Center for Disease Control says it is at least twice as many. Since the massacre of twenty children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut there has been a marked concern about gun violence. Concern, however, does not move legislation. Those politicians who have been purchased by the National Rifle Association lament gun violence but are unwilling to do anything about it. So the violence continues.
There are heart-breaking stories of those who are massacred. Young men and women at the cusp of adulthood who happened to be “hanging out” with friends on the wrong corner. Fathers who agitated an enraged driver. Children who “got in the way” of a random bullet. We say that guns don’t kill, people do. But people without guns can perhaps wreak havoc without creating a fatality.
While the population of the United States exceeds 300 million, there are about 280 million guns in civilian hands. Every year, 4.5 million firearms, including about two million guns have been sold. While many do not own guns, those who do keep acquiring them – the average gun owner had nearly 7 guns in 2004, up from 4 guns ten years earlier. More than 30 people are victims of gun violence each day. A third of them are under 20; half are between 18 and 35. Gun violence is the leading cause of death of African Americans in that age group.
What if George Zimmerman had not had a gun? If he did what he was told to do, police officers may have come and questioned Trayvon as he proceeded to his daddy’s house. Or perhaps there may have been a fist fight. There surely would not have been a deadly bullet, and while Zimmerman was the slayer, our gun laws are complicit in Trayvon Martin’s execution.
How many young people have been victims of unintended violence, victims of drive by violence, people just minding their business and losing their lives for minding their business? How many people with axes to grind would whoop and holler instead of carrying guns to workplaces, schools, and other places? How many crazy legislatures are relaxing gun laws to allow people to carry guns in bars and near schools? How many retailers, like Starbucks, refuse to ban guns in their establishments (in states where openly carrying guns is legal)?
As we mourn for Trayvon Martin, let us also recognize the scourge of gun violence. If we restricted gun ownership, this tragedy, and thousands of others, may not have happened.
Julianne Malveaux is a DC based economist and writer and President Emerita of Bennett College for Women.