Why Obama’s Tears on Push for Stricter Gun Laws Isn’t Protecting Black Youth from Violence

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U.S. President Barack Obama is seen in tears while delivering a statement on steps the administration is taking to reduce gun violence in the East Room of the White House in Washington January 5, 2016. Vice President Joe Biden is at right. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Barack Obama is seen in tears while delivering a statement on steps the administration is taking to reduce gun violence in the East Room of the White House in Washington January 5, 2016. Vice President Joe Biden is at right. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

On Tuesday, President Obama announced a new series of executive orders to stem the tide of gun violence.  The actions taken by the White House are designed to strengthen background checks for the sale of firearms. These efforts reflect a unilateral move by the president to address gun violence, given a Congress that is recalcitrant on matters of the proliferation of weapons in society.

Ultimately, this is only a single step down a longer road that is necessary to deal with violence in the Black community, particularly among Black youth.  A more holistic, comprehensive approach is necessary to address the root of the problem of fratricide in the Black community—the dearth of educational and economic opportunity in their communities, a school-to-prison pipeline that robs them of all hope and chances at a better life, and the frustrations that lead young Black men to turn on each other.  Stricter gun control will not solve that part of the equation.

“Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying,” Obama said at the White House, accompanied by gun violence victims and their families, as reported by CNN. “I reject that thinking. We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence.”

Gun-Violence-in-AmericaIn a commentary in the Chicago Sun-Times, Jesse Jackson, Sr. made the argument that gun control, by itself, cannot curb the gun violence in America.

“Obama has already delivered 15 national statements after shocking incidents of gun violence. Yet no national reforms have been passed — or even gotten much consideration,” Jackson wrote, comparing the wave of mass shootings to the air pollution in China, “a horrible health hazard which the country appears incapable of addressing.”

Jackson also argues that gun control doesn’t cost much compared to the challenge of addressing urban poverty, and Blacks and Latinos living in isolated, separate and unequal neighborhoods.  And yet, to deal with poverty—38 percent among Black children– means more than simply getting rid of the guns.  The veteran civil rights leader added that such a move would cost, but not as much as what society spends on the dysfunctional results of poverty, including illness, drugs, police, prison and the like.  But is there the will to act?  Jackson says no.

Today’s politicians don’t want to spend political capital on guns or fiscal capital on poverty. They’d rather pay more on the back end from failing to act than risk the up-front political and economic costs of dealing with the problems. So the war on guns is lost; the war on poverty abandoned.

The late scholar Dr. Amos Wilson took it a step further.  The author of the book, Black-On-Black Violence: The Psychodynamics of Black Self-Annihilation in Service of White Domination argued that it is necessary to understand the impact of racial oppression on the minds of  Black boys.  He said that while whites would characterize Blacks as innately criminal, this prevents us from examining the systemic issues, the greater society as the source of the criminality.

“Black on white violence is a manifestation of white on black violence. It is a reaction to white on Black violence,” he once said in a speech.  “America is founded on violence.  America is founded on the most gross criminal and savage activity of any other nation.”

Wilson noted that one must look to the system that has historically excluded and oppressed Black people in order to understand why some may resort to violence and crime.  That is not to downplay the role of personal responsibility, but to look at the larger picture in order to formulate solutions.

And the larger picture is one in which young Black people feel disrespected, have no sense of self-love, and therefore overcompensate their self-hate by developing an inflated ego.  Years of white supremacy, and a society of violence, pain and suffering against Black folks, has caused us to devalue and mistrust ourselves.  This is a specific discussion that goes far beyond gun proliferation and gun violence, to address the root causes of violence in the Black community.