Children coming home from school pass a South Memphis memorial for a victim of gun violence in 2016. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

Three people were injured and three people were killed by gunfire this weekend in Memphis.

In the 72 hours before I started writing, there were 327 gun violence incidents in the U.S. In 2021, there were 44,950 gun violence incidents. And, if you look at a map of gun violence deaths in 2022 so far, you’ll see there’s not a single state that hasn’t had one.

For all the things that divide us, gun violence is a unifier.

The Oxford dictionary has three definitions of crisis: a time of intense difficulty, trouble or danger; a time when a difficult or important decision must be made; the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death.

All three ring true when you think about American gun violence, but that last definition particularly suits the story our reporter Carrington J. Tatum wrote, exploring what it would mean if Memphis treated gun violence as a public health crisis.

Carrington started thinking about exploring the subject after then-Rep. London Lamar proposed the issue to the legislature. The story, he told me, was important because Carrington believes we must push the gun violence conversation forward, particularly when it comes to homicide. “The longer we delay and waste time on empty discussions, the more people — mainly Black boys and men — we will lose.”

In that way, it’s personal for Carrington, too. “There are boys I came up with that died of gun violence and others who have been incarcerated for what they did with a gun.”

But, he told me, it was also a worthy subject because the people in the communities we serve at MLK50 told us it’s important to them. “The policy steps we take, and the ones we choose not to take, have real consequences for families. And not making those consequences visible or being truthful about what does and doesn’t work helps sustain those consequences.”

One of the people quoted in the story whose nephew was killed by gun violence told Carrington not to “sugar coat,” and she’s not the first person to tell him that, he said. “So I feel I have a duty to tell it like it is and how it could be.”

A mourner wears a photo of Damien Smith, Jr. at his funeral in February. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.

As the people in the story make plain, the public health approach isn’t just for the health department to adopt; it’s an effort that must be community-wide. Carrington believes, we at MLK50 believe, that includes the media. And that’s why he’s thinking about other stories on the topic.

“A core theme of this story and the public health approach was the idea of law enforcement having the sole voice on gun violence and who gets to participate in the discussion. And that’s where I’m going next, to pull more communities into the conversation that haven’t been invited before and rethink who we deem an ‘expert’ on the subject.”

Research shows there can be success with the public health approach with the things that can kill us. Take smoking. I still remember going to the corner store and buying my mother packs of Benson & Hedges 100s in the green pack. But she stopped smoking because my sister and I learned in school about the dangers associated with smoking and educated her. Incessantly.

I know smoking and guns have different places in America’s identity. That ambiguous Second Amendment language makes guns seem like a right, not a privilege. So it’s going to take something else to get us to the place where we approach gun violence federally and locally and collectively.

It’s tough to know what it is that will drive us to the streets, enraged and fed up, like after George Floyd was murdered.

We’ve already had people shot to death in houses of worship. We’ve had children shot in schools. It’s frightening to think what line needs to be crossed for people to rise up and demand change.

Could it be that, when it comes to gun violence, the other public crisis is apathy?

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at adrienne.martin@mlk50.com



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