On Monday, March 11, WBUR is hosting a conversation at its new CitySpace location entitled “Tackling Gun Violence.” The panelists include Governor Charlie Baker; Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives Robert A. DeLeo; Dean & Prof. Sandro Galea of Boston University School of Public Health; Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey; Boston Globe Columnist Nestor Ramos; Stop Handgun Violence Chair John Rosenthal; March for Our Lives Student-Activist Vikiana Petit-Homme; and Marjory Stoneman Douglas Parkland High School Alum Sam Zeif.
The event appears to celebrate Massachusetts’ standing as the state with the lowest gun death and disability rate in the continental U.S., which WBUR attributes to “a set of policies that were implemented by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, working with local advocates and researchers to develop best practices that can set an example for the country.” But in the words of Charlotte Lowell published on sibling NPR station WGBH, the Commonwealth’s policies appear to “ignore the real and catastrophic handgun violence happening in city streets each day. And when we ignore that handgun violence, we also discount the stories from the communities that experience it most.”
We’re disheartened that this panel lacks voices from communities directly affected by violence here in Boston, just blocks away from WBUR’s new venue, or community-based leaders working to transform and prevent violence. Absent, for example, are Mothers for Justice and Equality; Roca, Inc.; the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, UTEC, Inc.; Violence in Boston; and I Have a Future. We echo concerns raised by community activists: this event should include directly affected individuals who live with gun violence in Boston and who can offer new paths to safety and healing. We are disturbed not only by the lack of affected voices in this discussion, but also by the $10 fee for a nominally public event, on an issue of public concern, with public officials. At the very least, this event should be free & open to the public.
Though marketed as “Tackling Gun Violence,” this panel seems oriented more toward gun control. It is certainly a worthy and important topic, but we are not well served by confusing the two. We’re less than three months into 2019, and seven of ten homicide victims in Boston were killed by gun violence — all young men of color. As we continue to lose beloved members of our community to gun violence, we need to elevate the voices of those directly impacted, not showcase a set of solutions that ignore and actually exacerbate the effects of entrenched disinvestment and neglect in communities of color.
Leaders throughout Boston and Massachusetts have community solutions for safety and healing — but these resource-intensive solutions require creative problem solving and public investment. Indeed, folks around the country doing this work, like Million Hoodies Movement for Justice or M.A.S.K. Chicago and Help Heal Chicago, recognize that poverty, trauma, segregation, and lack of opportunity lead to violence.
Gun violence is a racial justice issue: “patterns of intense gun violence are rooted in decades of economic struggle and racist policies.” Gun control alone, resulting in new criminal penalties, does not address root causes of violence and too often harms the same communities affected by violence, filling jails and prisons with young men of color. Gun control must be a part of the conversation, but not the entire conversation.
While it appears this event will focus on public health research to support gun control, public health researchers also have non-punitive, community building solutions. John MacDonald, a Penn criminologist, & Charles Branas, Chair of Columbia’s Department of Epidemiology, published a study in the American Journal of Public Health finding a 39% reduction in gun violence near remediated abandoned buildings and a 5% reduction in gun violence near improved vacant lots. Community investment is violence prevention.
Our gun violence strategy can’t count on defense only, but must draw from a playbook organized around community justice: seeking and adopting solutions that derive from the experience and insight of those living with gun violence. Our public conversations must include community members and leaders as well as elected officials.
David J. Harris, Managing Director & Katy Naples-Mitchell, Legal Fellow
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School