Lives of Black Youth Are Disposable in America

Gladys Gitau

Illustration by Kelsey Lund
Illustration by Kelsey Lund

In light of recent mass shootings, it seems as if America is really adamant on preventing the slaughter of innocent lives. No one wants to see the horrific stories of young children dying on their morning news.

Except young innocent children have been dying and continue to die even as we “recover” from Sandy Hook. According to social justice news magazine Colorlines,  gun violence is an epidemic in Chicago, taking 506 lives last year alone. Because of Chicago’s heavy segregation, most of the violence happens among youth of color, specifically black youth. An overwhelming majority of these deaths happen before the victims’ 25th birthdays.

What is fascinating to me is that I did not hear about this until the new year. Considering the fact that mass shootings are covered to the point that experts think that media attention is inspiring consequent shootings, it is disturbing what little coverage these kids get. No major news source was talking about the deaths of these black youth. Furthermore, this is happening in U.S. President Barack Obama’s hometown, and he wasn’t saying anything about it. In fact, I only learned of this tragedy when a young African-American girl from Chicago, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, was killed as a result of gun violence after performing at Obama’s second inauguration. She died within a mile of the president’s Chicago home.

I’d hate to keep comparing these shootings to the Sandy Hook incident, but it does suggest certain conclusions about how disposable the lives of black youth are in America. Mr. President was quick to fly out to console the people of Newtown, Conn., but not to neighboring New Haven where  inner city youth had been dying from gun-related deaths for years.

To his credit, Obama did visit Chicago, where he gave a 26-minute speech about faith and keeping families together. He has also acknowledged gun violence aside from Newtown as an issue. But little has been done since. Speeches can only do so much to stop bullets.

The issue is indeed complicated. Chicago, like many urban cities, bans civilians from attaining both assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, so the weapons are mainly brought in from out of state and will not be solved by gun regulations. Also, the violence is often gang-related, so it is not as easily cured. The blame often lands on the communities that these kids belong to, leaving black communities in a cycle of violence with no outside help but plenty of stigma.

The claim that Americans don’t care about black youth as explained through this tragedy is a bold one. If youth of color are killing other youth of color, can it be called racism? And if the problem is that the issue is not receiving media attention, does it really help to have media always circulating about how hopeless and dire these communities are? These are all questions that further complicate the issue.

At the end of the day, American kids are dying but America at large likes to think that it’s a coincidence that these kids are of color. Or worse, if these kids are killing themselves off, soon gun violence will no longer be an issue in places like Chicago.

The real tragedy lies in the idea that this issue is too complicated to solve, that the black community is already plagued with many other issues that make it impossible to isolate and stop gun violence. But to the black children living in these areas, that sentiment sends the message that “your life is not as valuable as those white kids’ lives.” I guess we’re all American, but some American blood is more precious and deserves more attention than some others.