Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
Majority-white gun control groups don’t know how to talk about violence in black communities.
Politico reported Tuesday that top gun control advocates are hoping to make inroads with Black Lives Matter activists as a way to gather support for legislation that would reduce gun violence. It’s an interesting match-up that you might think would make for a natural alliance. But as Urban League president Marc Morial and others point out in the piece, the gun control movement is “too white”—and pretty clueless about how to talk about urban gun violence.
To remedy this, the gun control crowd has been participating in weekly calls with Black Lives Matter activists and taking talking points from The Center for American Progress on how to communicate gun control issues to black communities. The gun reform group needs the black activists to present a more formidable attack against the Goliath lobby of the National Rifle Association.
If word choice and communication is the focus for bridging the movements, though, comments from The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence’s spokesman Ladd Everitt in the Politico article suggest they could use a better set of talking points.
Everitt said that both coalitions “need to do a little bit of soul searching.” Black Lives Matter needs this, said Everitt, because of its “huge underemphasis on black-on-black violence.” The gun control lobby needs it because of its failure to acknowledge the “deep distrust of law enforcement” in black communities—a distrust that is only “sometimes warranted,” said Everitt.
The Black Lives Matter crowd already emphasizes so-called “black-on-black violence”: One of the movement’s founders, Patrisse Cullors, acknowledged as much this past summer. Plenty of other black activists, BLM-affiliated and otherwise, regularly emphasize it as well. Though, as Cullors pointed out to the African-American media group the National Newspaper Publishers Association, this is an “internal conversation,” and it is one held ad nauseam inside black communities.
Having a predominantly white advocacy group telling black activists that they need to search their souls about violence in black communities is probably not the best way to build bridges between the movements. Everitt’s emphasis on “black-on-black violence” shows a default thinking that urban violence is a condition of skin color, or culture, rather than the outcome of poor legislation and other failed policies that have been largely out of African Americans’ control. (BLM-affiliated activist Deray McKesson called the article “misleading” to Raw Story editor Eric Dolan.)
As if it needed repeating, black people don’t kill people because they’re black, and black people are not victimized by gun violence because they’re black. The prevalence of guns held legally and illegally in high-crime areas in places like Chicago and New Orleans owes more to segregation and cities’ unimaginative ways of dealing with inherited poverty. When people of a like race are trapped in neighborhoods where there are high levels of employment, food and housing instability, poor access to healthcare, toxic air pollution, and schools set up to fail, those people tend to feel unsafe and live with abnormal levels of stress and agitation. These conditions happen to describe far too many neighborhoods where impoverished African Americans live. There’s your violence.
You won’t control gun violence without controlling for these kinds of insecurities. No amount of soul-searching will cause African Americans who live in these conditions to forget this.