I’m beginning to think there’s no amount of suffering that will force us to sustainably care about the well-being of our Black community.
I would have expected our apathy to cease after dozens of parents and children, fearful of being killed by a stray bullet, fled for cover when gunfire erupted during a youth league football game at Judkins Park on Sept. 25.
I would think that the killing of three people not even a day later near a Des Moines bar would stir us to take the steps needed to end such tragedies.
In a county where tens of thousands adamantly marched and screamed as loudly as their lungs would allow that Black Lives Matter, after the extrajudicial killing of a Black man in Minneapolis, surely they’d be unanimously repulsed by the fact that here in King County nearly half of all firearm homicide victims are Black, even though Black people comprise less than 7% of the county’s population.
There’s a malignant myth that Black people only cry out about gun violence when it’s perpetuated by police officers. As if our suffering diminishes because a loved one died by civilian hands, and our grief is restricted to grievances against law enforcement.
We cry out loudly. But who hears us?
“I never wanted my daughter to witness that trauma,” said Terrell Elmore, coach of the CD Panthers, a youth football program operating out of Seattle’s Central District for 25 years.
On a day honoring grandparents, with two minutes to go in a game between 8- and 9-year-olds, and with 10- and 11-year-olds waiting on the sideline to play the following game, a young woman fired off rounds near the park.
Elmore joined a melee of parents forced to grab nearby children and seek shelter. The incident left his 10-year-old daughter, a Panther cheerleader, and many other children visibly shaken, upset and crying.
In response, the Panthers created an action plan for future occurrences, noting where children and parents should congregate. The necessity of this measure, especially in a city that prides itself on its progressivism, is a tragedy clear and simple.
But its place of implementation is yet another reminder of which shootings spark alarm and which shootings spark indifference in this city.
“There’s no sense of urgency around creating solutions for these young people to be safe, and from my perspective, it’s disgusting, to be honest with you,” said TraeAnna Holiday, whose 7-year-old son plays for the CD Panthers.
There most certainly would be a sense of urgency if the shooting took place in a neighborhood like Windermere, Denny-Blaine or Laurelhurst.
“There’s no way that those families would be sitting back or that they would have to be the ones to say let’s garner some support and let’s make sure there’s security for our children,” said Holiday.
She referenced last Saturday, Oct. 2, when the CD Panthers organized a homecoming event attended by hundreds of Panther families, former and current players, and community members. The homecoming was the final game of the season for the Panthers and included private security hired by the parents. More importantly, it included an overwhelming showing of more than 200 members of Seattle’s Black community, who were rallied to come so their presence could reign as a symbol of support for the Black youth.
As beautiful as the day was, it was only one day.
I understand the umbrage at the trite refrains from our elected officials that at this point seem to be a boilerplate response to these incidents: “We need to put down guns.” “We need to invest in communities.” “We need to stop the violence.”
However, we should reserve more outrage for ourselves, because we have allowed ourselves to become numb to the pain of some of our city’s population. By our inaction, by our failing to demand nothing more than an adequate response to these incidents, we fail each other.
“After things like this happen, Black folks are used to trying to numb themselves to it because they have to. That can’t be how we respond to this. That’s not healthy for anyone, including our kids,” said Elmore.
Elmore was proud of the outpouring of support from the Black community on Saturday but he wishes the rest of the city had followed suit. There’s only so much a parent and a coach can do for a child who’s been rattled by violence.
He’s called on professional therapists to volunteer their time for the Panthers (something he says would’ve happened in a place like Mercer Island), for the city to have more upstream programs that are sustainably funded, and most of all for city solidarity.
For me, that solidarity relies less on policing to exclusively confront violence, and more on communal responsibility and efficacy.
It relies on us demanding nothing less than full funding for initiatives like King County’s Regional Peacekeeper Collective. Growing out of the county’s June 2020 declaration of gun violence as a public health crisis, it focuses on interventions between all parties involved in gun violence, preventing their younger siblings from becoming habituated to violent incidents, and providing enduring support to families touched by those incidents.
It relies on us refusing to ignore the needs of certain communities, waiting for their problems to travel elsewhere, so as to be addressed by someone else.
There is no one else. There is us in this city, and there is right now. There is viewing the worth of every single neighborhood, every single community, and every single child as indistinct from your own.
What wouldn’t you do for your child?