It is moments like these that keep me up at night. This year, 2019, has not started off on an easy foot. I have been connected to multiple people who have lost black men to gun violence…and we are only 90 days in the year. Nipsey Hussle’s tragic death recalled the normality of urban gun violence in my life.
Where were you when you found out that Nipsey Hussle passed? I was sitting in a nail salon trying to avoid social media. The nail shop was backed up and I gave in to pulling out my phone to help pass the time. Much to my surprise, Instagram announced a shooting at the Marathon Store and Nipsey Hussle was suspected to be shot. Less than 5 minutes later, Nipsey Hussle was pronounced gone too soon.
For those who are new to Nipsey, he is a rapper, entrepreneur, and a champion for the South Los Angeles community.
As the evening progressed, I recalled the number of Black men who did not make it to age 16. Then, those who did not make it to age 21. I remembered my near three year stint in Chicago and the number of Black boys who were shot daily. I harked back on how the number of deaths in Chicago were shocking news the first few months of my residence. After six months, the news of Black men dying was my new normal. Same was true for the children with whom I worked as they lost friends.
How the normality of gun violence has affected my psyche concerns me most. In 2018, Ayanna Alexander, author of “African Americans feel left out of the gun debate” in Politico magazine, highlights the need for mental health funds to be put into inner-city communities due to urban gun violence. According to Cal Wellness, gun violence claimed 35,000 lives in California in the last decade. In 2017, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports 8.2% of 100,000 Black people were killed by a firearm.
Gun violence impacts the mental health of our community. I pass by Nipsey Hussle’s Marathon store at least two times per week. For the sake of my emotional health, I will avoid that intersection for some time. However, what about people who are unable to avoid the corner because of their route to school or work? What about the mental health of people who work in the Marathon store or surrounding stores? How about the impact of the shooting on those present at the scene?
Urban gun violence is a public health issue. According to California Policy and Research Initiatives’ Spring 2018 poll, Black California voters consider expanding access to mental health services to be an extremely high policy priority.
In a perfect world, we would pause for more than a day for this tragedy. We would form community healing groups and open clinic doors to those who need to process what it means for another Black man to be killed. A Black man that lifts his community, gives back to the same corners that raised him, and takes over businesses that he frequented while growing up. In a perfect world, we would form new campaigns, throw a rally, and demand for more public health resources to be given to urban communities riddled with gun violence. If this world was perfect, we would not stop the campaigns, rallies, and demands until they are met with better resources geared towards healing, peace, and even more access to individuals in urban communities.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream of non-violence. Nipsey Hussle’s dream, “for our people to step into their greatness collectively” (Essence, 2018).
Zaneta Smith coordinates operations of an African American civic engagement and public opinion research organization, the California Policy & Research Initiative. www.calpri.org