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The Violence Policy Center (2020) notes that African Americans are only 13% of the US population yet they represent more than half of all American homicides; but what is worse is that 87% of African American homicides are killed by guns. It is evident from these statistics that gun violence among the African American community is a real problem. This paper will provide an overview of the problem, who it affects and why it is important for social workers to address it.
Overview of the Problem
Who is Affected
According to FBI data, in 2016 there were 7,756 African American homicide victims in the US. This equals to a homicide rate for African Americans of 20.44 per 100,000 (Violence Policy Center, 2020). 6,505 out of 7,442 victims were killed with guns. 17% of the killings were gang related. Nearly half of the killings were a result of an argument between the victim and the offender. 71% of the killings were totally unrelated to any other crime being committed (Violence Policy Center, 2020). These statistics show a community that is being destroyed by gun violence but also by violent attitudes. This problem, moreover, is cultural.
The culture of the African American community has been hurt by a number of factors. Candace Owens has pointed out the three biggest problems facing black America today are father absence, lack of adequate education, and abortion. The problem is that the African American community is suffering from socio-economic challenges that are seemingly insurmountable. The lack of stable families and communities that can provide the kind of value people need to develop fundamentally leads to more people on the street getting into trouble. Violence is the outlet they choose to settle their disputes. They learn violence on the streets. It is the culture they grow up in.
Why the Issue is Important
This issue is very important because there is an entire population of African Americans that is coming under violent assault. This community needs help addressing its issues and providing a culture of peace and understanding. It needs more stable communities and families, better schools and a more accommodating socio-economic system. But if the violence continues, the communities will just get worse and worse and the population will end up back in chains even though the US ended slavery more than a century and a half ago.
How It Fits with the Agency Mission
This social welfare agency’s mission is to serve the community’s needs and bring about a sense of social justice in the community while maintaining a Christian worldview. Because there are not many approaches being implemented in the social work area to address this issue, the agency needs to take more action. In the recent past, some cities like New York have been proactive by implementing Stop and Frisk laws to try to reduce gun violence among the community. However, this created problems of racial profiling of African Americans (Carbado, 2017).
It is important that social workers advocate for alternatives to Stop and Frisk to reduce the risk of racial stigmatization while also addressing the issue of gun violence. Policy alternatives to Stop and Frisk that social workers could advocate for include: 1) focused deterrence, 2) proactive policing aka community-based policing, 3) gun buybacks, and 4) gang intervention and prevention programs.
The specific goals that these alternatives would help to meet are: 1) the reduction of crime within the community; 2) the removal of guns from the streets; and 3) the effect of peace throughout the city. From the Christian worldview perspective and the global perspective, these goals would promote peace and community among diverse people and would allow individuals of multiple backgrounds to mix more freely, securely and with a sense of pride and safety in their own communities, parks, streets, and markets. They would make the African American community safer, and help to promote a more positive culture by showing that law enforcement officers want to work with community members and social workers to help redirect people away from lives of violence towards more positive and wholesome outlets like education, careers, athletics and religious meetings to help keep them on the right track.
Who Defines the History of the Problem
African Americans themselves have defined the history of this problem. Since the time of Malcolm X the issue of violence has been addressed. Martin Luther King sought a non-violent approach to problems of oppression, but the problem of violence has crept into the black community and has become part of the culture. That culture exploded with the rise of gangsta rap and artists like NWA rapping about the realities of violence on the streets. Other hip hop artists like Tupac Shakur, however, adopted a different tone…
…sense of purpose. If a community is robbed of its identity because of a perception of oppression on the part of the police, the community can become antagonistic. Thus, Community policing is recommended overall, and it is a standard policing concept that focuses on putting police on the streets so that they can interact with community members on a daily basis, get to know them, make their presence known in a friendly and familiar manner, and thus reduce the risk of crime and violence through their positive, social and professional presence in the community. To implement it requires having teams of police—typically two officers per section of blocks, depending on need—rounding the blocks continuously and engaging members of the community in a friendly manner. Social workers can work with community police to help ensure that the right social values are being expressed that that the goal of social justice is being pursued while gun violence specifically is being targeted and reduced.
The principles of the black perspective are 1) to respond to oppression and discrimination experienced by minorities and 2) to maintain sensitivity to all experiences of the oppressed (Howard University, 2020). Social workers can help ensure that the oppressed communities of African Americans are not further antagonized by policies like Stop and Frisk in law enforcement officers’ attempts to stop gun violence. While it is important to stop gun violence, this issue should be addressed in the right way. That means sensitivity has to be maintained at all times and so the social worker can advocate on behalf of the community with law enforcement to consider the alternative policies suggested herein.
The guiding philosophy of Howard University is to always consider the black perspective and to not allow the black community to be oppressed any longer. For the issue of gun violence, which is destructive to black communities, a more culturally competent approach is needed. The social worker who advocates on behalf of this community should be mindful of the needs of this community and of the way that policies like Stop and Frisk can be harmful. For that reason, social workers should work with other community leaders and law enforcement to try gang prevention programs, gun buybacks, focused policing and community policing. In the end it is about helping the culture to thrive and that takes a community to come together for the sake of…
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Violence Policy Center. (2020). Black homicide victimization. Retrieved from http://vpc.org/revealing-the-impacts-of-gun-violence/black-homicide-victimization/
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