For many Black Americans, gun violence is a nationwide pestilence that is continually at the forefront of conversations with regards to ownership and usage but not the lasting effects of those who survive it. To be a survivor of gun violence in Black America means that you are more likely to live with the lasting effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and less likely to have the resources to combat the constant anxiety, paranoia, and fear that are forever attached to your mind and body.
According to the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Black American adults know someone who has been shot, while 32 percent also say they or someone they know has been threatened or intimidated with the use of a gun. The Violence Policy Center found that 85 percent of Black homicide victims are shot and killed by a gun. As a result, living with trauma has become commonplace for those on the surviving end. Whether finding a different route to take home or tensing at the sight of police, it is imperative to recognize the irregularity in living like this day to day while having to properly function in society.
Most recently, rapper, activist, and Los Angeles entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle (born Ermias Asghedom) was viciously murdered in the plaza that housed his Marathon store. The news of his passing made its way through social media, but the worst of it had only begun. As the hours passed, a video captured by a camera adjacent to the parking lot began to circulate the internet, leaving fans, friends, and colleagues in awe and despair as they watched each second of his murder. The video shows a man run up to shoot Nipsey twice and two other men standing close by. The shooter turns to leave and runs back, shooting Nipsey multiple times then proceeds to kick him in the head before fleeing the scene.
The cloud of this moment has left many saddened, with celebrities and others vocalizing just how much his death had impacted them. The hardest part is grasping how a community moves forward and copes after witnessing such tragic incidents. This is a question that is often overlooked when Black boys become afraid to wear hoodies due to a fear of being murdered by a cowardice vigilante like the one who killed Trayvon Martin. It is a question that can also be applied when a 7-year old, like Aiyana Stanley-Jones, is sleeping in her living room and catches a bullet in the neck — not as a result of gang violence, but a SWAT team raid on the wrong house that was labeled as just an accident. Black mothers who have to bury their children must still show up to work because they cannot afford to miss a paycheck is troublesome. Black school children who bury their parents, siblings, or friends and cannot miss school days because of truancy laws do not get to act out, due to the assumption that they are a menace or disruptive.
Imagine, growing up where the count of childhood friends lost to gun violence manifests in the double digits.
I found this to be true for my husband, who grew up in the East Side of Buffalo, New York. During our first the Fourth of July together, the “pop” of fireworks made him easily agitated. I had assumed he was annoyed at the excessive use of the celebratory objects, but he was triggered. Triggered from the trauma that showed up at 14 years old when he was eye level to a gun that had been pulled on him. Triggered by the constancy of having to “duck down” not knowing what direction the shots came from and if they were heading in his direction. Triggered from the countless funerals he would attend, while making a conscious decision to stop counting past 30 lost friends before the age of 25.
Although I felt for my husband, I too, wasn’t exempt from being among the 57 percent of Black America who knows someone who has been shot. I hadn’t realized that the disdain I held for the news was due to continually watching the body bag of a friend lying dead in a park in Newark, New Jersey years ago. His name was Dashon Harvey, and I had spoken to him just hours before he and two other friends were forced to kneel against an elementary school wall and were shot execution style — leaving a third friend fighting for her life after being shot and stabbed in the head. None of the slain victims would live to see 21 years of age.
As a mother now, I’m in a constant state of worry over how people will perceive my son no matter how well-mannered, well-dressed, or well-spoken. Or as the wife of a Black man, having to be in the most vulnerable and devastating position as Lauren London, Hussle’s spouse, finds herself in now and to have to explain to my toddler why his father will never be coming home again. These conversations are often had with friends and family members from the Black community, but were not as prevalent in other communities until the rise of mass shootings.
Although the rules of engagement are likely to be discussed, the aftermath of picking up the pieces is often left in the wind.
Because they lack access to support and the resources to pinpoint these traumas, victims are often further victimized by diminishing their own experiences, or subjected to the external belief that somehow they are the cause of their trauma. Unfortunately, this is not the only barrier for Black Americans dealing with PTSD as a result of gun violence. Statistically, Black people are more likely to not have private healthcare or affordable healthcare. For those who do receive care, the quality of such is abhorrent in comparison to other ethnic groups.
Programs such as the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health were created to further the conversation in reducing racial disparities from within the healthcare system that tends to dismiss the mental health conditions of Black people. Organizations like the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Alliance of Multi-Ethnic Behavioral Health Associations, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are working to steadily decrease the bias surrounding aiding Black patients by providing them with the proper tools to grieve, cope, and manage their PTSD in the most effective way. In addition, it’s vital for physicians to have an idea of the community that they serve in order to serve the community well.
With a culmination of factors such as poverty, racial discrimination, and the constant threat of one’s safety, the solutions are not going to come overnight for those suffering from ongoing trauma. However, it is a necessity that America begins to recognize that Black Americans have a rational fear of guns and also fear for their safety as a result of gun violence, which they have experienced first or second-hand.
About the Author
Imani Bashir is a former sports broadcaster who, after years in media, decided to try her hand as an educator teaching literature abroad. She believes in raising her son as a global citizen and has lived in three countries (Poland — where her son was born — Egypt, and China). She discontinued teaching in a formal classroom setting and is a full-time consultant and writer, currently working on her first memoir about being a traveling first-time mother. Her bylines include The Washington Post, Glamour magazine, The Points Guy, and many more.