THERE are fears that this summer will bring wild west-like gun violence in US cities where even good kids feel pressure to carry guns.
This feeling of an impending storm follows Monday’s CDC analysis of shooting deaths during the pandemic, which reached levels America hasn’t seen since 1968 and disproportionately impacted black men.
Firearms were involved in 79 per cent of all homicides in 2020 – a 35 per cent increase from 2019 – according to a May 10 report published by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There were 19,384 gun murders in 2020, which surpassed the previous high of 18,253 recorded by the CDC in 1993.
The sky high number of firearm murders coincided with the pandemic-fuelled spike in gun sales, according to Pew Research.
“In 2020, the number of monthly federal background checks for gun purchases was consistently at least 20 percent higher than in the same month in 2019,” Pew Research said in its September report.
“It’s about to be a crazy summer. You can feel it in the air,” Damon Jones told The Sun.
Jones, who spent three decades in law enforcement, is New York State’s representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America and publishes the local newspaper Black Westchester.
The paper covers issues impacting black communities in Westchester County, New York and focuses on the predominantly black city of Mount Vernon, which is a few miles north of the Bronx.
AJ Woodson, Black Westchester’s editor and journalist, said he met a straight-A high school student who stays out of trouble that told him that he feels unsafe in his neighborhood without a gun.
“There’s one youth, a real good kid, who admitted he carries a gun because everyone else has one,” Woodson said.
“He’s scared to go to the store without it. He’s scared to go to the movies without it … Our children are living in a war zone, and there’s no where to go to unpack their trauma.”
Woodson’s single anecdote is representative of a key finding in the CDC’s report about gun violence during the pandemic.
The firearm murder rate among black men between the ages of 10 and 44 was 21.6 times higher among than white men of the same age.
The number-based report didn’t reach any conclusions about why there was such a drastic leap in firearm deaths during the pandemic or why black communities were hit the hardest.
GUNS ARE THE EFFECT. WHAT’S THE CAUSE?
“It’s 6.30 in the morning, and we turn on the TV at work and there’s always a story about someone getting shot,” Jones said.
“After awhile, you say what’s going on? Where’s black lives matter? There were protests against police brutality, but what about the black lady shot while sitting at a stop sign? All black lives should matter.”
In Woodson and Jones’ hometown, 13-year-old Shamoya McKenzie was killed in December 2016 when a stray bullet intended for a rival gang member pierced the passenger side of her mom’s car.
“When I was growing up, we had places to go. Three or four days out of the week, we would play pool to stay off the streets,” Woodson said. “And if i had a serious issue, I could talk to someone.”
“I was a coin flip. A lot of my friends spent double digit years in prison. I could’ve been one of them if I didn’t have places to go.
“But now, there are no programs for our youth, and then they wonder why our youth are out in the streets. What do you expect the kids to do?”
And then there’s a cycle of violence and trauma that reaches back to the kids’ parents and grandparents.
“There’s generational trauma in our communities,” Woodson said.
“These are kids trying to figure it out when adults aren’t able to. And all of that trauma builds up, and most of the time it comes out in a way that’s not positive.”
US IS AT A ‘CROSSROADS’
Jones said the CDC’s report shows how the US is “at a crossroads.”
“As someone who champions criminal justice reform, I think the narrative has gone too far. We need policing but good policing.
“Now we need to invest more in reform and social issues and mental health services that have been cut in our communities.
“You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see there was something wrong with the Brooklyn subway shooter. We have to address mental health and social issues in the black communities.”
Jones and Woodson said they’ve been pushing for federal prosecutors to go after the gun traffickers like the DEA has been clamping down on narcotic suppliers.
“What plagues our communities are guns and drugs, none of this is being made in our community; they’re being brought in,” Woodson said.
Building off the point, Jones said, “The young brother who has to have a gun to go to the store can get jammed up and face stiffer penalties, but there’s no increase in sentencing for gun trafficking.
“Those laws need to have stiffer penalties and the gun manufacturers need to know where their guns are going.
“We know of a gun trafficker who has been caught but hasn’t spent a day in jail because they say he’s a small fish and they want a big fish. Meanwhile, illegal guns continue to come into our city.”