Jasmine Razeghi writes on why gun violence victims are not who you would expect.  

On June 1st, the Community Justice Action Fund hosted a conversation about gun violence in communities of color. The speakers were the victims of gun violence as well as gun violence experts. After the Orlando shooting that killed 49 people, the American Medical Association declared gun violence “a public health crisis”.

After taking a moment of silence for victims of gun violence, the online conversation proceeded to acknowledge their “privileged platform” as their survivor status has allowed many of the speakers to be able to educate others on gun violence and advocate for systemic reform. Gun violence is often portrayed in the media to have very few associations. For example, the phrase “gun violence” is often generalized by many as solely in relation to school shootings. But what about other scenarios such as gang violence, domestic violence, or simply an instance of bad luck?

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Cleopatra Cowley, the mother of her late daughter Hadiya Pendleton who was killed in 2013 due to gun violence, acknowledged the stigma around gun violence. Cowley said, “there was nothing about the way that my daughter lived her life that would indicate she would be a victim of gun violence.” She went on to describe her daughter as “very active in school, she advocated for everyone that couldn’t advocate for themselves.” Hadiya was at the wrong place at the wrong time when she was shot and killed while gangs were feuding near a local park. Hadiya’s story brings attention to an underlying issue with society’s idea of gun violence. It can happen to anyone. There are no indicators of who can get killed from a gun in the United States. 

Paul Anchondo, who recently celebrated his first birthday, is a son to two victims of gun violence. The El Paso born baby was shielded by his parents Jordan and Andre during the 2019 El Paso shooting that left 23 people dead. Paul is a baby. It took less than a year of his life for gun violence to alter it. Though Paul and Cleopatra are not victims of gun violence, they live to highlight the seriousness of the problem. 

Domestic Violence is Gun Violence

Ruth Glenn, CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that the top priority of her organization is “addressing the issue of domestic violence and firearms.” The coalition also “address issues of…oppression and racism and patriarchy and privilege.” In other words, gun violence is not an isolated event. With it, there are other forms of violence that feed off of gun violence such as domestic violence. Even without use, guns are used to intimidate and coerce victims of domestic violence, leaving them in fear for their life. Looking at gun violence through a single lens neglects those who are not the “ideal gun violence victim” like a domestic violence victim.

Normalizing the Abnormal

There is, however, an issue in neglecting this “gang-related violence” as the ideal situation for victimhood in relation to gun violence. When pushing forward this idea of gang-related violence as a main part of the gun violence issue, it normalizes its existence. In communities of color, gang violence is often normalized rather than prioritized as a community issue. 

Chico Tillman, a board member of Live Free Chicago, is not a victim of gun violence either. But his experiences as a former gang member in Chicago made him realize the work that has to be done. Police, with the intention of helping people, are avoided by people of color. Especially with the prominence of black individuals being murdered by police officers, the lack of trust is understandable. Tillman stated, “violence is a disease”. Which is why he has contributed his life to helping the Chicago community in regard to its gun violence issue. His privileged position has allowed him to change the lives of those in his community after his own self-realization. 

The trauma of gun violence lives among people who are not considered victims. Even if you are not a victim yourself, chances are you will interact with someone who has been affected by gun violence. That is what makes it an issue everyone must work towards solving. The trauma is universal.  

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