We are reposting with thoughts, prayers and the work of the families affected in Florida.
It has been an overwhelmingly active summer of gun violence. From the Pulse Night Club shooting, to the murders of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Korryn Gaines and Sylville Smith by police officers, too many people of color lost their lives at the hands of armed gunmen in recent months. And these were only the instances that gained the most publicity through the hard work of organizers on the ground demanding justice for their communities.
In the wake of the Pulse shooting, the traction for increased gun control was reawakened and, this time, factions of the LGBTQ community joined the cause with some of them rallying under the cry of ‘Gays Against Guns’. In June, House Democrats staged a sit-in in attempts to force a vote on gun control amendments that Republicans were resisting. Many praised this attempt to approach of gun violence in the U.S. while others were critical of the appropriation of Democrats subsuming protest tactics which have historically been radical exercises of civil disobedience against the State.
Further, gun control rhetoric ignores the root cause of gun violence—less about individuals with guns and more about a culture that positions specific populations as disposable, and ultimately more vulnerable to death. While on the surface gun control seems like a tempting and obvious solution to the problem of gun violence—and fewer guns would undoubtedly minimize the number of deaths and injuries—many proposed gun control solutions ultimately replicated larger systems of violence against subjects who are already the target of gun violence.
For example, the amendments that Democrats sat in against would have allegedly blocked anyone with a history of mental illness or on a terrorist watch list from buying weapons. Terrorism has become a buzzword that is strategically invoked to both heighten our defenses and imagine specific (racialized) enemies. Rather than considering the root causes that left the queer people of color—primarily Latinxs, some of them undocumented—targeted in the Pulse shooting, the Democrats sprung on an opportunity to attempt to position two vulnerable minoritized communities—queers and Muslims—against each other. To exploit queer pain, trauma and death to further institutionalize Islamophobia, as if we are natural enemies. This is a common tactic used by white liberalism that plays off racists stereotypes that depict people are color as somehow inherently more homophobic than our white counterparts. What this action actually does is erase both queer Muslims and how the categorizing of sexuality that produced both heterosexuality and homophobia stems from Christian European colonialism.
The inclusion of those with mental illness to be prevented from accessing firearms was a dangerous addition to further pathologize and criminalize communities that are not only already oppressed but also already disproportionately targeted by police. The notion that those who commit mass murder are mentally ill is not only ableist, but misguided and obscures the conditions actively produce these murders. Under a white supremacist heteropatriarchy, women, queers and people of color are vulnerable subjects, our livelihood precariously positioned as expendable. That we are the victim of so many instances of gun violence—whether by police or shooters who act alone—is only indicative of the value and priorities given to our lives in the grander scheme. Using the mentally ill as a scapegoat for this is dangerous for the mentally ill and attempts to characterize these murders as irrational when they are actually the completely logical solution to systems of oppression. No matter who pulls the trigger, they are always in the service of the systems that govern our world.
Additionally, the mentally ill are also subject to police violence. Victims of the epidemic include people who the police were called to help and were ultimately shot and killed upon the their arrival. This summer, police shot on arrival—though did not kill—Charles Kinsey, a Black behavioral therapist at an assisted living facility. Kinsey was working with a white autistic man who had wandered from his group, when the police were called on his ward. Allegedly, the officer who shot Kinsey was aiming for the unnamed man in his care, assuming he was dangerous because of his neuroatypical movements—making clear how perceptions of safety and danger are contextual.
Daniel Smith, a Deaf man, was shot and killed after a police altercation in North Carolina in late August. And while neither autism nor Deafness are mental illnesses, these cases do demonstrate how both ableism and audism play roles in police brutality and leave these communities vulnerable to state sanctioned gun violence at the hands of officers. Rather than implicitly marking these populations as inherently dangerous, the mentally ill and neurodivergent need and deserve protections that meet their needs more than we need to be protected from them.
We also need to remember the history between gun control legislation and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s rightful invocation of the Second Amendment to protect their communities against the police violence that has targeted Black communities for more than a century. Again, this police violence feels like the inevitable outcome of the origins of policing. The inception of the police force began at the time of Emancipation, when the first police officers were patrols for run-away enslaved persons. Policing and gun control in this country has always been shaped by a fear of Black self-determination and liberation.
In contrast, white supremacists are not put under the same scrutiny Muslims are for practicing their faith or Black folks have been for attempting to protect their communities. The amendments the Democrats so righteously sat in against would not have kept people of color safer by preventing known KKK members from owning firearms—nor do I endorse terror watchlists that watch the ‘right’ people. But white supremacists are often protected from similar laws that would restrict their ability to engage in anti-Black and Islamophobic terrorist acts. This is because their agenda aligns with this nation’s ongoing legacy—no matter who is in the House, or the Senate, or the presidency . More laws in an unlawful and amoral nation are not the answer.
More Radical Reads: To My LGBTQ Latino Son After Pulse: The Only Grief I feel Is For the World
The mere fact that historically so many of gunmen who commit mass murder—because they are almost always men—kill themselves last should prove how laws that act as restriction and deferment are not enough. Those who want to do harm will find a way. Even those who are taken alive may fear death but they do not fear laws. Laws don’t and can’t protect us in a country that has been founded on an ongoing genocide.
Particularly if we contextualize gun violence as a microcosm of a larger epidemic of genocide against Black and Native communities in the U.S.. The latest chapter in the ongoing war against these populations finds the U.S. government violating human rights by restricting access to water. In Flint, Michigan—a primarily Black city—have been denied drinkable water for years. Much of the time they have been forced to resort to desperate measures for showering while drinking and cooking with bottled water, while still being billed for not only not drinkable but downright toxic water. They are essentially trapped in cycles of unlivable conditions and human rights violations. The U.S. government has continued this legacy by removing the water supply to Native activists and their allies fighting construction of the Dakota Pipleline.
Gun control won’t end gun violence. The problem is not individuals with guns, the problem is the systemic devaluing of the lives of women, children, Muslims, people of color and queers—the targets of many of the most recent slaughters. Gun violence is a loaded, intentional, meticulous term that means different things to different communities and masks the causes of these epidemics. For many communities of color, gun violence stems from over policing and extrajudicial murders by police of disproportionately Black folks.
I want an end to gun violence. I want an end to killer cops and wars in brown countries. I want an end to the genocide against Black and Native populations in the U.S. But I do not want gun control that results in additional surveillance of Arab and Muslim communities, more cops in Black and brown communities, reifying stigma against the mentally ill with no acknowledgment of how living under capitalism, racism, patriarchy, colonialism is bad for our mental health and livelihood.
We do not need more laws. We do not need to buttress the Prison Industrial Complex and further invite police into our communities while simultaneously limiting access to survival and resistance tools for communities of color. Instead, we need a holistic addressing of systems that are killing us with policing, food deserts, lack of access to water, education, physical and mental health and more. We need to cultivate the value and fostering of livelihood of vulnerable communities. We will not find these comprehensive solutions in more laws on occupied lands.
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[Feature Image: A photo of a person looking downward. They are wearing a black hoodie with a white graph on the torso. Behind them are black and white signs. Source: Michael Fleshman]