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Why doesn’t America mourn Black shooting victims?
There was a mass shooting in Virginia Beach last Friday—but you probably wouldn’t know it.
On Friday night in Virginia Beach, there were three separate shootings that took two lives and injured eight others—including one death at the hands of a police officer who failed to activate his bodycam. He was placed on administrative leave while the death is being investigated by the department.
The shooting victims include Deshayla Harris, 28, and Donovan Lynch, 25. Deshayla had been one of the stars of a reality TV show called “Bad Girls Club” on the Oxygen Network. Donovan was an offensive lineman on the University of Virginia’s College at Wise football team. Both were beloved. Both leave holes in the hearts of the people who knew them—the communities who lost them.
But we’re not hearing their stories.
When murder is normal.
These shootings fall on the heels of two other mass shootings in just six days that took 18 innocent lives. Those massacres grabbed our attention, ushering forward a national mourning over the senseless violence. We heard all about the lives of those victims—remembrances from parents and siblings, from teachers and coaches.
That mourning is important. Both Deshayla and Donavan deserve to be mourned and memorialized the same ways that the victims of shootings in Atlanta and Boulder are. They too had parents and siblings, teachers and coaches.
So why are they not? The answer is as obvious as it is unspeakable. These were Black people killed in a Black community. And though there are incredible leaders inside these communities doing the work to end gun violence, as a nation, we willingly avert our eyes from tragedy when it occurs in the Black community. More than half of the nearly 14,000 victims of homicide every year—268 victims per week—are Black. Yet rather than tragedy, we excuse Black people shot in Black communities as normal.
The racist narrative of “Black-on-Black” gun violence essentializes violence as something of and among Black people. If it's “just a part of life” as the narrative suggests, why mourn it? Indeed, our narrative about violence in Black communities indicts the people who live in these communities rather than the guns that are pumped into them.
But gun violence shouldn’t be part of life anywhere.
Black Lives Matter—right?
The murder trial of George Floyd is gripping the nation. His assassination at the hands of law enforcement in the most brutal fashion—asphyxiation by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds—kicked off a national moment of reckoning. Estimates suggest that one in 10 Americans participated in a Black Lives Matter protest. Corporations put out solidarity statements, sports leagues printed inspirational words like “equality” on their uniforms.
But it rings hollow in the face of our persistent failure to register the moral outrage in the murders of Black folks like Deshayla and Donovan in Black communities. It’s great that my cable company sponsors a “Black experiences” section and my iPhone has a Black fist emoji. But we still seem to lack the society-wide rethink of all the ways we devalue Black life the movement must yet bring about.
It starts with mourning Black Lives that also Mattered. That’s because mourning does moral and emotional work in society. It humanizes the victims and puts the immensity of their loss in context. It reminds us that we should never accept the process that took them from the people who loved them—who took them from us—as normal. It compels action on their behalf, lest their lives be lost in vain.
If Black Lives Matter, then Deshayla and Donovan’s lives matter—not just to the folks they leave behind, but to all of us. In the same way our hearts bleed for those who died in both of these senseless mass gun murders, it should also bleed for all of the people who die in the murders that we write off as “normal.” Because by writing them off, we participate in the dehumanization that cheapens their lives in the first place.
Our failure to mourn is our failure to act.
Mourning those we’ve lost forces us to consider why they were lost in the first place. Deshayla and Donovan—along with the 18 people murdered in Atlanta and Boulder—all died at the end of a gun. Indeed, gun violence remains the slow-moving national epidemic we have yet to take on.
Normalizing gun death in Black communities is part of the reason why. By discounting Black victims, we systematically understate the immensity of the loss and the regularity with which it takes lives. Rather than the daily drumbeat of loss, we only pay attention to the most uncommon situations—like shootings at suburban grocery stores.
Mourning those we lose in Black communities also calls attention to the means of prevention: embracing sensible gun reform. Indeed, even as we fail to acknowledge the loss of Black lives to gun violence, apologists for the gun industry are busy weaponizing their narrative of Black violence against action. Speaking to Fox News Sunday last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham said:
“I own an AR-15. If there's a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can't protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to, because I can defend myself."
“The gang” wasn’t a racist dog-whistle—it was a racial blow horn to the Fox News viewership. He is framing his perceived need for a gun in racist terms—as a defense against Black perpetrators of gun violence. And in highlighting “the gang,” Graham wants us not just to ignore the bigger problem of guns, but to seek refuge in our own. This is, in part, possible because failing to fully acknowledge the Black lives we lose every day to gun violence leaves us missing the broader point.
Because Black Lives Matter, we have a moral responsibility to acknowledge and mourn the loss of every Black life, not excuse it as some kind of twisted normal. And then, we have to do all we can to save them.