If you saw one of those “breaking news” chyrons that cable news runs across the bottom of your television saying that six people had been shot and killed and 32 had been injured, there’s little doubt you’d wonder where the latest mass shooting took place.
You’d want to know the shooter’s motive. Was he a white supremacist? A religious fanatic radicalized over the internet? Whom did he target?
You’d likely stop whatever it is you were doing and glue yourself to the television, breathlessly waiting for more details to come out. And most likely you’d shake your head in dismay and disgust, wondering how do we ever prevent tragedies like Dayton and El Paso from continuing to happen in our civilized society.
But all this would change for you if I told you that this was not the aftermath of yet another bloody mass shooting but rather the carnage on the streets of Philadelphia this past Father’s Day weekend.
Your interest, piqued mere moments earlier, would dissipate. You might even realize that you’d heard this before — that this has become commonplace — and go back to whatever it was that previously occupied your time.
Philadelphia reached its 200th murder this past weekend, according to statistics from the Philadelphia Police Department. That’s eight more than we had at the same time last year, when 351 homicides were recorded, the most since 2007 (391). And these days it really feels as though many of us have come to accept the destructive upward trajectory we are on.
This not caring feels a lot like the wave of gentrification that is sweeping across Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore and other cities with similar issues of crime and human displacement. We have become numb to the victims of urban gun violence because we tend not to see them — yes, this includes Black people — because they are overwhelmingly young, Black and poor.
The common threads sewing together gentrification and urban gun violence are poverty and race. Walk through formerly underserved Black neighborhoods in gentrifying cities like this one and you’ll see that poor people of color have been moved out and no one seems to care where they land.
In places like Philadelphia, race, poverty and gun violence are inextricably bound. A March report by the Philadelphia Department of Health identified homicide as the leading cause of death for Black men between the ages of 15 and 34, and a report last year by the Philadelphia Tribune found that our most crime-plague ZIP codes are also among the poorest.
But most of the media doesn’t want to talk about the slow drip of unceasing gun violence that occurs far too regularly in poor and predominantly Black sections of Philadelphia, where remedies for what for decades now has been referred to as an “epidemic” never seem to rise above gun buybacks, sparsely attended marches and a little political lip service.
Gun violence has historically impacted Black men more than any other segment of the population. But when was the last time you heard someone like Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer or House Speak Nancy Pelosi calling on the Senate to end their summer vacations early to discuss this the way they did last week in wake of the tragedies in Texas and Ohio?
Every day about 80 people in the United States are killed by gun violence and they are disproportionately African American. Conversely, mass murders account for only small fraction of gun-related mortality.
The victims of urban violence are often seen as disposable, nameless and irrelevant. They are often taken out with guns that have been purchased illegally and in states with some of the toughest gun laws. The feeling is that law enforcement has given up on these people, just as cities have said the heck with the poor displaced from their homes because they are, well, poor people of color.
Quite the opposite is true for victims of mass shootings.
While white supremacist shooter Patrick Crusius targeted Mexicans among the 22 he killed in El Paso, the majority of the worst American mass shootings impact mostly white communities.
When Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 and wounded 17 at Virginia Tech in 2007, most of them were not poor minority students. When in 2012 Adam Lanza killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary — 20 of them children between the ages of six and seven — this sadistic butcher was killing the children of the well to do. When the Stephen Paddock killed 58 and wounded 422 at a concert in Las Vegas in 2017, most of them were white and spending disposable income that many Blacks don’t have.
No form of gun violence is any worse than the another. Only a monster would assert this. But it just feels as though society is more concerned when the victims are of a certain race and income level than when they are poor, Black and brown.