When laws and legislation are built in this country they almost always criminalize, disenfranchise, and dismantle the self-determination of Black and Brown folks; Even the very few of those laws that are designed with good intentions. Because the foundation of governance and American political power is violently predicated on anti-Blackness, white-supremacy, and colonialism, these laws always turn into some form of policing of marginalized communities. This is also the case for gun control legislation.
In thinking about the Anti-Violence movement of the 80’s and 90’s, we find that it was largely led by radical feminists who were sure that they were making the right political decisions in that moment. As the Anti-Violence movement gained more mainstream support, the politics lost its radical and intersectional rigor. When the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was produced in 1994, from decades of feminist labor, it lacked a critical understanding of how race and class would intersect with gender-based oppression, and it had no solutions that accounted for the expansiveness of sexuality, and the endless possibilities of gender combinations within intimate partnerships outside of traditional binaries. The legislation detailed in VAWA disproportionately criminalized Black and Brown intimate partnerships and Black women were disproportionately forced into more police interactions which built a pipeline to incarceration.
When we talk about gun violence policy, especially in response to school shootings, we’re often talking about mandatory minimum sentencing, more police and security presence in schools, and background checks for those seeking to buy a gun. So even when those fighting for an end to the culture of violence in America have the best intentions, Black and Brown folks will most likely be the ones to experience violence at the hands of the state as a result, gun or not. Because history shows the state does not view white men with AR-15’s as the main source of violence in America, Black folks, People of Color, Muslim folks, and those surviving extreme poverty have been socially positioned as the most violent in America. In 1996 Hillary Clinton called young Black people “Superpredators”, and in 2017 Donald Trump called young Black people fighting for self-determination “Black Identity Extremists”.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing for the unlawful possession of a firearm profoundly contributes to the cycle of violence that is the prison industrial complex. When we build any type of legislation, we have to keep in mind that it is within the context of the Prison Industrial Complex. 80 Percent of the folks in prison are there for offenses that were caused by extreme poverty. Meaning most of the people caught carrying a weapon are carrying it because they’ve been pushed out of school and had their education stolen from them. They as well as their families are facing extreme hardship. They are now forced to sustain themselves and their families on a practice within the street economy and carry gun to survive and protect themselves within the work they engage in. They are incarcerated ultimately because of the equipment they chose to use to survive in an environment of extreme poverty that they were forced into under Capitalism. After a cruel and ridiculous amount of time incarcerated, if and when they return to their communities, they will be denied access to public assistance, and denied entry to public housing. Cities have not yet made a concerted effort at divesting from prisons and policing and investing in economic justice programs, and political projects that will revitalize the communities of marginalized peoples. So our people are now forced into the cycle of returning to the strategy of survival again and most often being incarcerated repeatedly.
Zero-Tolerance policy (which was created in response to the Columbine Shooting) was another effort to solve the violence of school shootings. It was intended to be a set of policies that would keep students safe across the country, but turned into a strategy for schools to push out “troublesome” students, forcing them into the school to prison pipeline. The students that were disproportionately impacted by these violent laws were Black and Brown.
Whilst organizing with highschool students on the southside of Chicago, it was appalling to find out that Orr, a public High School, had a police processing center and holding cells in the basement of the school. Which meant when students got into an altercation, or any kind of trouble that involved harm in the school, instead of getting detention, or a parent teacher conference, like most students in this country, they were being processed by police and pushed into the juvenile detention center. Police inside of schools do not make students safer, police and high security presence in schools actually cultivate an increasingly hostile environment for schools to learn within.
Background checks for buying a gun
The current national conversation around gun violence connected to the tragic shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month must not be divorced from the broader legacy, reality, and culture of violence in the United States. As a country that was built on violent theft of land and the violent institution of chattel slavery, the U.S. is still a place where violence is very much a part of the fabric of everyday life and the logic we are taught to use to understand the world. Routine violence, in the form of policing, incarceration, brutal economic inequity, and racialized resource deprivation of marginalized communities, is so deep-seated and normalized that it tends to not even be acknowledged as violence at all in the mainstream. In contrast, violence that disrupts popular notions of what is normal (like a shooting at a predominantly wealthy and white school), even when those forms of violence are more rare than “normal” violence, become central in conversations about addressing violence.
This point is not made to minimize the very real violence experienced by students, teachers, workers, and others who have been victim to a school shooting or other mass shooting. However, it is important to name the broader culture of violence in order to understand the conditions that lead to this kind of violent event. Specifically, because part of the culture around violence is the imbalance of what gets noticed, what gets considered violence, and what gets responded to, we must be particularly intentional about looking at the big picture so that the solutions we look to don’t reinforce this problem. For example, without putting school shooting in context of structural and state violence that impact marginalized communities, solutions may seem to address the problem of school shooting but increase the less visible violence being done to people at the margins.
Ultimately, the problem here is twofold. 1) There is an incredible amount of violence in our society 2) The mainstream public understands the vast majority of violence that happens in our society to be normal, or doesn’t consider it to be violence at all.
— co-written by
National Organizing Co-Chair, Asha Ransby-Sporn
Training and Culture Manager, Fresco Steez