Opinion | gun-violence-black-mothers
I recently had a tall privacy fence installed around my house in Chicago. My 14-year-old son has autism. Maybe the barrier will prevent him from wandering away from home and being chased down and shot by police, as Ricardo Hayeswas, I thought. Maybe it will protect him from being struck by a stray bullet as Hadiya Pendleton was.
I’m far from the only Black mother here who is worried that a gun could end her child’s life. Chicago, along with several big cities across the country, has seen a rise in gun violence — perpetrated by both civilians and police officers — since January of last year. In one especially alarming spree last summer, Chicago police officers shot five people in just two months. And shootings and murders in the city were up more than 50 percent overall in 2020 compared with 2019; 875 people died from gun violence — a record high. A majority of the city’s victims (78 percent) were Black.
Throughout the United States., Black Americans are most affected by gun violence — whether the shooter is a civilian or a police officer. Black people are two times more likely to die in a firearm incident and three times more likely to be killed in a police encounter than white Americans. When moms like me worry about our children, we have to ask ourselves, “What should I fear most?”
When George Floyd was murdered last summer, the Wall of Moms, a group of mostly white suburban mothers, received significant media attention for the statement they made in Portland, Ore., when they protested his murder. I couldn’t help thinking of the relatively little recognition of the work of Black mothers, who have long organized against police violence as well as the violence happening in our communities.
In Chicago, groups like Mothers Against Senseless Killings have led the fight against violence in their neighborhoods, addressing their communities’ needs by doing everything from patrolling corners to cooking meals. On a national level, Mothers of the Movement — a group of Black women whose children have been killed by guns, including at the hands of police officers — works to raise awareness and push for legislative changes on a national level.
The priorities of some people concerned about racist violence at the hands of the police — those who want to reduce the presence of officers — are often framed as being in tension with those of Black people who want their communities to be safer. That’s simply not true. It’s a misconception that exists in part because we don’t hear enough from those who are touched by both components of the crisis and lead the fight against it. So over the past eight months, I asked Black mothers across the country — who are the true experts on the issue — to tell me about the gun violence that has shaped their lives. As killings by the police and mass shootings continue to make headlines, it’s time we listen to them.
The interviews have been edited for clarity and length.