By February the word was out: Essence magazine would be a major partner in this year’s Million Mom March to Halt the Assault, scheduled for Mother’s Day, May 9, at the nation’s Capitol. Within days of our announcement, the hate mail began. The E-mails were mainly from men—I’m fairly sure they weren’t brothers—who denounced our stand against gun violence and portrayed the march organizers as subversives who couldn’t get their facts straight. I felt proud.
To earn the wrath of the national gun lobby is a sure sign that we’re doing something right. Still, I was amazed not just at the speed with which they launched their E-mail campaign, but also at their sheer nerve. Imagine trying to tell us that it isn’t in our interest to support the thousands of women who will rally to raise awareness of how gun violence threatens our very existence.
More than any other ethnic group, we pay dearly for this country’s love affair with guns. Manufactured violence, the kind that serves no one except the people in back rooms trying to make a buck, permeates movies, video games, TV and popular music. A more lethal kind of violence permeates our cities, suburbs, playgrounds and schools, transforming our neighborhoods into domestic war zones.
In fact, firearms have become our weapons of mass destruction, a leading cause of death for Black 15-to-24-year-olds, taking their heaviest toll on our men. Although Black men were a mere 6 percent of the U.S. population in 2001, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, they accounted for an amazing 47 percent of all gun-homicide victims. And, increasingly, we’re killing ourselves with guns. Historically, suicide rates were low among Black youths, but now the rates are close to those for White youths, with firearms accounting for two thirds of all suicides among Blacks between the ages of 10 and 19.
We’ve got it all wrong when it comes to valuing violence for entertainment’s sake and viewing the right to arm ourselves to the teeth as one of the crowning achievements of a free society. Meanwhile, people throughout the world who deride our cowboy mentality know that our culture of violence prevents the planet’s foremost superpower from being a superhumane and supercivilized society. Instead, many of its citizens are living under siege, frightened by their own shadows.
Why are we so tolerant of the violence that is spreading everywhere? Many of us no longer recall that there is another way to live. But greed and fear also come into play. Too few elected officials are willing to say no to Charlton Heston and the enormously influential gun lobby. But as African-Americans, as women and as mothers, we’re obliged to do what we’ve always done: Walk tall, speak the truth, and take a stand to secure a better future. I hope to see all of you in Washington on Mother’s Day. Look for me. I’ll be wearing pink. For more information, visit mmm2004.com