Sunday, 12 February 2017

Trump fears terrorists, but more Americans are shot dead by toddlers

Gary Younge                Guardian/UK                 8 February 2017
Gun deaths – intentional, accidental and self-inflicted – dwarf those related to terror. The talk is of secure borders but within the US many live in a state of fear.

Let us leave aside for the moment the fact that since 9/11 not a single American has been killed in a terrorist attack by a citizen from the
countries on this list (of Trumps). The reality is that an American is at least twice as likely to be shot dead by a toddler than killed by a terrorist. In 2014 88 Americans were shot dead, on average, every day: 58 killed themselves while 30 were murdered. In that same year 18 Americans were killed by terrorist attacks in the US. Put more starkly: more Americans were killed by firearms roughly every five hours than were killed by terrorists in an entire year. It is unlikely that scrapping a rule requiring extended background checks for gun purchases by some social security recipients suffering from mental illness will improve the situation.)

One need not downplay the importance of terrorism here. Terrorism is not only murderous. In its ability to spread anxiety and undermine democratic engagement with violence it is also deeply reactionary. Rather than galvanising people around a cause it divides them in the crudest manner possible – on the basis of fear. That’s as true when America kills innocent civilians. But the fear most Americans experience daily isn’t imported – it’s home grown. That’s true across the board, but particularly true for some minorities. Every day seven children and teens are shot dead in the US. Firearms are the biggest killer of young black people and the second biggest killer of all children, after traffic accidents.

While researching my
book about all the young people who were killed on one random day – 23 November 2013 – every single parent of a black teenager who lost a child that day that I interviewed said they assumed this might happen to their kid. “I didn’t think it would be him,” said one mother. “I thought it would be his brother.” “You wouldn’t be doing your job as a father if you didn’t,” said another.

Many of the areas where these young people live, and die, look like war zones – empty lots, half-demolished houses, depleted infrastructure, militarised policing, potholed roads, boarded-up houses, abandoned churches. But more importantly, they are experienced as such. People (mostly young men) disappear – either to prison or to the grave – leaving a huge gender imbalance. Times are hard, and the informal economy is rife, meaning there are spivs everywhere making an ostentatious display of their wealth. The one major difference is that whereas wars often cement communities as people band together against a “common enemy,” in these areas the enemy is everywhere and, potentially, anyone.

Many of those who insist that, when it comes to terror, one must balance individual rights against collective security, become curiously silent when it comes to adapting their interpretation of the right to bear arms to the issue of public safety.

In 2002
I interviewed the late Maya Angelou about her views on the 9/11 terror attacks. “Living in a state of terror was new to many white people in America,” she told me. “But black people have been living in a state of terror in this country for more than 400 years.”

If the current administration applied just half the zeal to making sure all people in the country feel included and safe as they do to making sure some outside of it feel excluded and anxious, the impact on Americans’ sense of security would be repaid exponentially.

After a judge blocked the Muslim ban over the weekend Trump said that if there was another terrorist attack America should blame him. Between me writing this article and you reading it the chances are another child will be shot dead. Whom, I wonder, should we blame for that? [Abridged]

Gary Younge is the author of
Another Day in the Death of America, A Chronicle of 10 Short Lives

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