Poverty, How it Fuels Gun Violence

For many Americans living in low-income communities, the spectre of gun violence hangs over them like a constant companion.

Written by RuQuan Brown

In this series, we’re naming and exploring the societal forces that give rise to gun violence through the experiences of young people. We believe that if we can make an impact in these key areas, we can save lives and get closer to a world where gun violence is obsolete. This essay explores poverty — the intentional, targeted divestment of resources from BIPOC communities, in particular. There is no ending gun violence without attacking homelessness, food scarcity, segregation, and economic stagnation. The safest communities in America are the ones with the most resources. Safety comes from care, and that care must be based in love for all people.

I first experienced gun violence when I was five years old, in Seattle. I haven’t gone a year of my life since then without longing to hold a friend or a family member that was stolen by gun violence. Too many men and women in my family are survivors of — and too many were stolen away by — gun violence. This shouldn’t be normal, but some treat it like it is.

Gun violence touches everything. How can I focus on simple things, like homework and sports, when my sleep is always accompanied by nightmares of death? I am a freshman in college. After a long day of classes and football practice, I dreamt of my mother, father, and three siblings being murdered by a shooter, and the shooter coming after me next. The fear from that dream was so strong I couldn’t focus in class the next day. How could I focus? Having lost my step-dad and many of my friends and peers, these nightmares are far too realistic. I might hear a noise in my dorm and imagine that the murderer from my dream is in my vicinity. Or I might avoid any sort of angry conflict with anyone because I imagine that it will escalate to the point of murder. This isn’t healthy, and I know I’m not the only person who experiences the shadow of gun violence like this. It turns out that a Harvard education is no escape from the internal trauma of everyday gun violence.

For many Americans living in low-income communities, the spectre of gun violence hangs over them like a constant companion. And we know that poverty is linked to increased acts of violence, in large part because there’s a tremendous lack of love. Yes, love.

The cycle of violence in communities across the country, especially in Black neighborhoods, began not yesterday, or the year before, or even decades before that. This cycle of violence began centuries ago, when that infamous first ship arrived at Jamestown. In the space where love for one another and humanity was replaced by love of money and greed, America’s fabric was stitched. That lack of love stole Black people from their homes in Africa, and kept them enslaved in the Americas. That same lack of love lives on today, and it leads to the withholding of support and investment in communities across the country. America’s agenda has been to demolish any and everything Black, unless that ‘thing’ produces profit. This is a love-less system, one that fuels poverty and fuels gun violence. Holding back love, and investment, from communities most impacted by gun violence is simply a violent continuation of America’s multi-century punch and kick to the Black community. To love, then, is a revolutionary act. Because anytime one goes against America, revolution is born.

To love is to see what’s happening to those who are suffering, ask them what they need, and then give them what they need. To restructure oppressive institutions in order to liberate Black people. To invest in Black communities as places rich in humanity and vibrance, without replacing the Black residents.

To practice this revolutionary act of love is to turn the few programs that currently exist on their heads. These present day “solutions,” like Section 8, too often simply provide the bare necessities for life, if that, rather than creating a launching pad for disadvantaged people to thrive long-term. They provide a fraction of our people’s needs, while ignoring the larger whole. It treats people as problems to solve, rather than people deserving of love. For example, section 8 gives low income families access to reduced rent in some parts of America. But the neighborhoods that most often accept section 8 vouchers are often themselves plagued by poverty and disinvestment — infrastructure is neglected, school systems deprived of the funding enjoyed by wealthier neighborhoods, police departments lavished with funds while social services are starved. What might it look like if, instead of providing the bare minimum, section 8 was premised on a love for people — if it had as its goal a desire to see people thrive, rather than get by? If it allowed a pathway to home ownership for poor families? If a mother could pass on that house to their children? Instead, I’ve seen some families subsist on section 8 for three generations, treated as “problems” to be dealt with by someone else further down the road.

Our people are constantly receiving the bare minimum. They feel unloved and upset because of this cycle that we’re trying to destroy. These patterns of negative emotions, buttressed by neglect and disinvestment, can kill the hope that our people might have once had. It creates conditions ripe for gun violence, stoked by even more damaging effects on our communities like drug epidemics and domestic violence.

To sit and “search” for solutions to gun violence is stupid. We know what those solutions are, and our communities have been calling for them for years. The solution is for our government to show love to us, to Black communities, and to repair harm and invest in people where before they’ve been destroyed for so many generations.

The fact is, we know what keeps us safe, and what reduces interpersonal and everyday gun violence. Well funded school systems keep us safe. Well maintained homes and neighborhoods keep us safe. Healthcare that doesn’t harm us more than it helps us keeps us safe. These things keep us safe by preventing violence in the first place, rather than reacting to it.

A revolutionary love is what is missing. People who are loved are able to express love, not violence. Our government and our systems treat people with disdain, as objects, rather than with love and compassion. If our systems worked with a love for people, our communities would be safer, stronger, and more just places to live. The absence of love elongates the reverbrations of slavery, poverty, and yes, gun violence. And love is, at its core, action. What good is it to tell your neighbor who sleeps outside, “Be warm?” Don’t you think you should give him a home with blankets and heat, too?

To end gun violence, there needs to be proper investment into the lives and communities of people subjected to gun violence. That is love.

RuQuan Brown is a rising college sophomore who is a member of March for Our Lives’ Youth Congress. Nina Durham contributed to his piece.

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