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Why Black children bear the brunt of gun deaths, and what can be done to stop it

FILE - This June 29, 2016, file photo shows guns on display at a gun store in Miami. Florida lawmakers can fine local government officials who attempt to restrict gun and ammunition sales under a state law upheld by the state Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)
FILE - This June 29, 2016, file photo shows guns on display at a gun store in Miami. Florida lawmakers can fine local government officials who attempt to restrict gun and ammunition sales under a state law upheld by the state Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

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For most of U.S. history, disease was the number one killer of children.

In the 1960s, it was motor vehicle crashes. Then, in 2020, the thing mostly likely to kill a child in this country? Guns.

But for Black children, specifically, gun violence has been the leading cause of death since 2006.

“What the research shows unequivocally and shows now is, is that it’s not the people in the neighborhood, but it’s what the neighborhood has done to those individuals.”

And during the pandemic, it only got worse. According to one study, Black children were 100 times more likely to be shot than white children.

Today, On Point: Why Black children bear the brunt of gun deaths, and what can be done to stop it.

Guests

Dr. Victor Garcia, pediatric surgeon and the founding director of trauma services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Joseph Richardson, professor of African American studies and anthropology at the University of Maryland. Gun violence prevention researcher. Author of the study Understanding the Intersection of Nonfatal Violent Firearm Injury, Incarceration, and Traumatic Stress Among Young Black Men.

Also Featured

Trevon Bosley, part of the B.R.A.V.E Youth Leaders, an anti-violence group in Chicago. His brother was shot and killed when he was 7.

Dr. MaryBeth Bernardin, lead author of the study COVID-19 Pandemic effects on the epidemiology and mortality of pediatric firearm injuries.

Read: Trevon Bosley on how gun violence has shaped his life

CHUCK SCHUMER: Today, the leading cause of death among children is no longer a car accident, is no longer illness or malnourishment. The leading cause of death among children is a firearm. The leading cause of death of children is a firearm.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer spoke those words in May 2022. On May 24th, an 18-year-old gunman murdered 19 children and 2 adults, and injured 17 more at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

CHAKRABARTI: Schumer was citing data from the CDC – data that’s now being widely shared again after last week’s mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville. The CDC found that between 2019 and 2020, the number of children who died due to firearms jumped 30%.

Just 5% of those deaths were accidental shootings. A third were by suicide. And 65% of those kids were killed by violent assault with a gun – the vast majority of which took place not at schools, but in American neighborhoods.

All told, it made 2020 the year where guns became the number one killer of American children.

But for some kids, 2020 was nothing new.

For Black children, specifically, gun violence has been the leading cause of death since 2006.

TREVON BOSLEY: Just growing up in that environment, you have to move differently. If it was a car that was driving down the block too slow or drove around two times, you have to be vigilant.

Can’t walk around with two headphones in because you have to always be able to hear for your surroundings. And you just are constantly just being prepared for whatever might happen.

CHAKRABARTI: This is Trevon Bosley. He grew up in Roseland, one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

BOSLEY: At a point, I didn’t see myself reaching past the age of 18. And many of them in these communities are just trying to take it one day at a time. They don’t see 16 and the trauma, that just comes from living in a constant state of fear and a constant state of worrying. It just leads to a sense of hopelessness at all times.

CHAKRABARTI: Trevon was just 7 years old when he lost a family member to gun violence. His 18-year-old brother Terrell was shot and killed while bringing in instruments into a church for band practice.

BOSLEY: Majority of the shootings that we see in our communities are not people in a gang. It was just people living their lives as normal. My brother was killed at church. My cousin was shot and killed down the street from his home. I know kids who were shot and killed in their homes while getting ready for school. People just sitting on their porches.

CHAKRABARTI: The shooter who killed Terrell has never been found. Trevon says his brother’s death changed everything in their family.

BOSLEY: My parents, of course, they were super vigilant when it came to everything going on. Me and my other brother, we couldn’t go out a lot of places. We couldn’t stay out late. We couldn’t be on the porch just with no one home.

We couldn’t do a lot of the things that most kids could do, like going up and down a block or leaving off the block. We couldn’t do any of those things because they didn’t want to take the chance of losing another child.

CHAKRABARTI: Trevon became an anti-violence activist in his community. He’s part of the group BRAVE Youth Leaders — which stands for bold resistance against violence everywhere.

But he says, at first, getting adults to listen was hard.

BOSLEY: Especially my younger years, we would get ignored all the time, and I think it’s because rather than people seeing us as people who are closest to the situation, closest to the problem, they just see a lack of experience, a lack of knowledge or they don’t know this, that and the third. Versus they would be the most knowledgeable because they deal with the closest.

CHAKRABARTI: Trevon says that made him want to work harder to stop the violence in his community. Here he is at the March of Our Lives Rally in 2018 in Washington, D.C.

BOSLEY: Everyday shootings, everyday shootings, are everyday problems, are everyday problems. Everyday shootings, everyday shootings, are everyday problems, are everyday problems. My name is Trevon Bosley and I’m here with the B.R.A.V.E Youth Leaders, and I’m here to talk on behalf of Chicago’s youth who are surrounded and impacted by gun violence every day.

CHAKRABARTI: Trevon is 24 years old now. He graduated from college last year with a degree in electrical engineering. He’s chosen to move back to his Chicago neighborhood.

And he says it’s profoundly frustrating that the media and lawmaker’s focus on childhood gun deaths surges only after every school shooting in mostly white schools, when kids in his neighborhood have been living with a form of mass gun death for their entire lives.

BOSLEY: The national coverage started coming when it started happening in other communities that look more like those who care about it. So, in the beginning, it was incredibly infuriating, just understanding that many of the times the people in my community, my friends and family, which is considered a tally at the end of the week, eight people shot, 72 people killed.

Related Reading

The Trace: Shootings of Children Nearly Doubled During the Pandemic — and Black Kids Bore the Brunt of the Violence” — “A new study found that racial disparities among young shooting victims widened as overall gun violence spiked.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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