Forum: Murders decline, yet half of U.S. victims are black

By Wayne Dawkins

HAMPTON, Va. – “Love life? Love guns?” the closing forum Friday at the 36th Conference on the Black Family presented the face, numbers and psychological toll of gun violence.

Nardyne Jeffries of Washington, D.C. held up a portrait photo of her teenage daughter Brishell Jones, then a second photo of her disfigured and bullet-riddled face. Jeffries’ daughter was slain in 2010 with an AK-47 rifle during a turf war between gangs. The mother turned her grief into social action by working with grass-roots and nonprofit organizations for universal background checks.

Josh Horowitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence cited the numbers: Of 30,000 American firearms deaths on average annually, 12,000 of them were murders, and, of those homicides, 48 percent of the victims were African-Americans.

Candace Wallace, a Hampton University psychology professor, said mass media content – reality TV shows particularly – reinforce perceptions that black life is cheap. Wallace also cited Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] as a symptom prevalent in violent urban areas just as in battle zones.

Moderator Byron Pitts of ABC News invited U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Va. to step out of the audience to speak about guns, gun violence and its influence on Congress. Scott said there are disconnects and inaction among legislators because “in some states, guns are like fishing rods. People in Montana are not killed with AK-47s. People are intensely involved with guns, but not gun violence,” the latter however rampant in urban areas.

Scott urged Hampton University students in the audience of 300 people to “vote” because meaningful midterm Congressional elections are coming this November and the NRA relentlessly pressures lawmakers to steer clear of gun control measures.

Indeed. On Wednesday, NPR reported that Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s nominee for surgeon general, might be imperiled because the NRA sent letters to key senators warning them that the lobby group does not like the physician and MBA because he said urban gun violence is a health care issue.

Horowitz called the NRA’s implied threat “unprecedented,” but also said the move did not kill the nomination as the NPR account suggested: “This battle’s not over,” he said. “This is positioning by the NRA, but they did not stop this. All of the major medical associations support this guy and the vote won’t be for months.”

Thus, Scott’s plea to students that they engage elected officials and vote.

Rushard Anderson, a Hampton U. student, told the panel he had witnessed gun violence up close at least twice in his hometown Richmond. He asked what to tell his friends who tell him “he’s made it” because he’s on campus and away from the mayhem while they remain in the crossfire.

“I believe it’s going to change,” answered Horowitz. “Murder and death rates are going down, but the suicide rate is going up.” Horowitz said “a big number” is older white men shooting themselves.

Pitts meanwhile urged the audience to avoid the phrase “black on black” violence. Statistically, violence in America, said Pitts, often involves similar people living in close proximity, whether it is “white on white, black on black or midget on midget.”