Tens of thousands of demonstrators across the nation took the streets in peaceful protests after George Zimmerman (pictured below left) was acquitted last summer in the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin (pictured above center).
Zimmerman, a former neighborhood night watchman, was accused of second-degree murder in the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting death of Trayvon on a rain swept night in Sanford, Fla.
The case quickly took on racial overtones when Sanford law enforcement declined to press charges against Zimmerman, a white Hispanic. But he was arrested after a groundswell of protests. The state appointed Angela Corey as a special prosecutor and she brought second-degree murder charges against him.
Nonetheless, the trial yielded the same result as the police declining to press charges: Zimmerman walked. The verdict drew into sharp focus the painful reality that gun violence in America is a public health threat for today’s youth, especially African Americans.
The Violence Policy Center‘s (VPC) annual study, “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States: An Analysis of 2011 Homicide Data,” released a report recently that highlights the deadly toll of gun violence on Black teens and adults. The findings revealed that in 2011, there were 6,309 Black homicide victims in the United States, with a homicide rate of 17.51 per 100,000. In comparison, the overall national homicide rate was 4.44 percent, with Whites at 2.64 per 100,000.
“Gun violence is a public health crisis that touches all Americans, but the impact on African Americans is especially devastating,” Josh Sugarmann, executive director of VPC, said in the report. “This report should be a wake-up call for our elected officials to address the disproportionately high homicide victimization rate among black men and women. The longer we wait to act, the more lives will be lost.”
Case in point, another Florida jury recently convicted Michael Dunn, who is White, of three charges of attempted second-degree murder in the shooting death of African-American youth Jordan Davis. He shot into a SUV full of teenagers after arguing about their loud music. He was also convicted of one count of shooting into the vehicle.
Although Corey says that she will seek a retrial on a separate first-degree murder charge that resulted in a hung jury, questions abound whether justice prevailed. How could the jury be hung on the first-degree murder charge? Davis was not armed. Could it be that so little value placed on young Black lives?
Indeed, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, wrote in a news release after the Zimmerman verdict: “The lack of regulation of guns in America is a grave danger to all of our children.”
Watts argued that Trayvon’s death underscored the increasing danger of lenient gun policies across the nation, namely the Stand Your Ground law, which was not invoked as a defense for either Zimmerman or Dunn, but served as an undertone. In Florida, someone does not have an obligation to retreat if he or she “reasonably” believes his or her life is at stake, even if there is no actual threat.
“Stand Your Ground laws, which give everyday citizens more leeway to shoot than the U.S. military gives to our soldiers in war zones, endanger our children, families and communities,” Watts writes. “These laws grow even more dangerous when coupled with some states’ permissive concealed carry policies that empower untrained, average citizens to carry a gun, and turn everyday conflicts into deadly tragedies.”
Each year, there are more than 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S., Sheldon Teperman, director of New York City’s busiest trauma centers at Jacobi Medical Center, writes in a piece at the New York City Health and Hospital Corp. Annually, there are 12,000 murders by guns, which means that 34 Americans are murdered by guns every day, and nine of those are children, he says.
“We must change,” Teperman writes. “From our perspective as doctors on the front lines of this violence, we must raise up our voices and Demand a Plan to end gun violence, as Mayors Against Illegal Guns and grassroots supporters are calling on the President and Congress to do. States with stricter laws have fewer gun deaths, according to the Violence Policy Center. It’s clear that gun safety laws work to prevent death and injury.”