When I was little, my mother always told me she didn’t like guns. Not even pretend ones! I could never understand why – I thought they were cool. When you’re a kid you see them all the time on TV. Silly cartoons of a silly man hunting a silly rabbit, or superhero movies, cowboys & indians (I know, I know…), or comedic cop shows. I used to watch my older cousins shooting little plastic pellets into a paper target stuck onto a tree with blu-tack. So when I used to pretend to shoot something or ask for a toy gun, and my mother said NO, I never really understood. I just thought she was being boring.
When my parents split up, there was always a kind of rivalry between them; Dad would spoil us. At Christmas time, he would make sure we had giant stockings full of presents, a mountain under the tree, and there were never any rules on what you were allowed to eat. He’d often buy us things Mum didn’t approve of. I recall one year opening the gifts in our stockings and finding a bunch of army stuff – war paint, toy guns, some little plastic green soldiers, sweets in camouflage packaging. My sister and I played with them for ages, shooting each other with the toy guns, pretending to die, running around the garden pretending to be in the army.
We didn’t know the first thing about guns, beside the plasticky, fakeness of the little stocking fillers. We had no idea about gun safety, no idea about how to load bullets, no idea how much a real gun cost, or weighed, or hurt. In the UK, people don’t carry guns. I’d never seen a real one, never knew anyone who owned one, wouldn’t even know how or where to get a permit for one. I still don’t. If you put one in my hand, I could probably figure out how to turn the safety off and pull the trigger. But why would I? Why would I want to pull that trigger?
Dear America. At twenty-two years old, I still have no idea about real life guns because they just aren’t commonplace in my world.
By twenty-two years old, the average American citizen has probably seen more guns that I ever will in my entire lifetime. 30 people in America (on average) are shot dead every day, and 1 in 3 of these are under twenty years old. Homicide is the second leading cause of death in Americans aged 15 – 24 years old, and the primary cause of death among black Americans of that age group. 47% of black people in America know someone who died at the end of a gun. 19% of black people said it was a family member. I can’t even begin to comprehend what young, black Americans feel, think, and are scared of every day. Every. Single. Day. Even worse if they fall into another ‘minority’ category such as LGBTQ people, religious groups, those with disabilities…
Now let’s talk about racism and the police in America. I know what you’re thinking – a silly little white, British girl talking about something she’s never experienced in a place she’s never been to… But hear me out.
Dear America. I keep seeing things happen that shouldn’t be happening. Eric Garner, July 17th 2014. Choked to death for selling cigarettes – unarmed. Michael Brown Jr, August 9th 2014. Shot to death in Ferguson for no reason – unarmed. Tamir Rice, November 23rd 2014. A twelve year old shot dead for holding a toy gun. Tony Robinson, March 6th 2015. Shot dead whilst unarmed for supposedly ‘disrupting traffic’. Walter Scott, April 4th 2015. Shot in the back while he was trying to run away for having a broken tail light – unarmed. Greg Gunn, February 25th 2016. Shot dead after being stopped for looking ‘suspicious’ – unarmed. Alton Sterling, July 5th 2016. Shot dead for selling CDs outside a convenience store – he owned a gun, but the weapon was not in his hand. Philando Castile, July 6th 2016. Shot 4 times at point blank range while he reached for his ID – carried a licensed handgun but not armed at the time. These stories fill up my news feed, my radio, my television, the mouths of my friends and family. We don’t stop hearing about these deaths in the great “Land of the Free”.
And that’s just a brief list of incidents from the last two years. It doesn’t even include the incredible number of deaths at the hands of the police that didn’t involve guns (*cough* Sandra Bland *cough*).
Dear America, what is going on?
As of the 10th of July 2016, approximately 571 people have been killed by police this year alone. 35 of those were totally unarmed, 22 were holding a toy weapon, and with 27 it was unclear. How can a police officer shoot to kill if they are unclear on whether the victim is even armed? How can they shoot to kill without first being certain that the victim was holding a plastic, toy gun? How can they shoot to kill someone with multiple bullets if that person is unarmed? How can a supposedly trained police officer rush into a situation and take the life of another human being without following protocol? And how many of these police officers are held accountable for their actions?
I’ll tell you. In 2015 a grand total of ZERO American police officers faced conviction for murder or manslaughter charges. This means that 10 times out of 10, these killings are ruled as justified homicides. Lawful. Good. Protecting the ‘innocent’. I fail to see how the judicial system of America is protecting and serving its citizens. Why are these police officers getting away, facing no consequences for their behaviour?
Dear America, I know you aren’t the only place in the world that faces racially charged, violent crime. I know other places fail to see that its citizens’ murderers are put behind bars. I know that you’re used to this. I can’t say that where I live in England doesn’t have its hate crimes, because it does. But I can say that at least we’ve done something right, in that people can’t just walk around with guns or tasers on them. It’s illegal to even carry pepper spray in the UK. I look at America’s gun laws, and I feel ultimately disheartened that the world can have moved on so much from times gone by, yet still be living in the past. Your second amendment is ancient, and change is good. Progress is good.
People cannot choose their skin colour, but they can choose whether or not to pull the trigger. They can choose to put on a blue shirt in the morning and patrol the streets, then racially profile someone, corner them, and kill them. They can choose to break the oath they’ve sworn. They can choose to see someone as only the colour of their skin, and not as a human being.
Dear America, please stop making it so easy for racist people to become police officers. Please stop making it so easy for them to murder black people. Please stop making it so easy for them to get away with this, like there is no crime in taking a life.
Dear America. Please change your gun laws. Your right to bear arms is not as important as the lives of more than 30,000 people every year.
Now when I look back at my childhood memories of my mother telling me off for pointing two fingers out and shouting ‘pew, pew, pew!’, I am not surprised. I am not surprised that she didn’t want to see her daughter lightheartedly shooting away at make believe targets when there were so many living targets waiting for a bullet to stop them dead. Its sad that we see guns on television, and we, as children, start to play with them. Children that are the future of this world are acting out violence before they even really understand the gravity of it. What a time to be alive.
Dear America. Please don’t respond to this with #AllLivesMatter, because that is not going to help anyone. #BlackLivesMatter because black people keep getting murdered unjustly. They are murdered for no reason. They are murdered in their homes. They are murdered in their cars. They are murdered in the streets. Sort yourself out before you come at us with #AllLivesMatter. Nobody deserves to be killed, but right now it is black people who are made into targets by white people. #BlackLivesMatter because society thinks that they don’t.
As a white woman, I know that I can’t ever experience what that feels like, but I can offer my solidarity and my allyship. I can offer my voice as I join the outcry against gun violence and I can offer my feet planted firmly on the ground as I stand against racism. I can offer my ear to anyone who would like to talk about their experiences, and I can promise to learn from them and not to retort with “Well, I’m not racist so I’m not part of the problem!”.
Dear America, I hope you change soon. The world is tired of seeing people being killed before they’ve really lived.
Someone who wants some good news for once.