Although the COVID 19 pandemic appears to be slowing down in America, the gun violence epidemic continues to plague communities nationwide, especially those of color. During the first months of the pandemic, medical officials paid close attention to the extremely high rates of Coronavirus in Black communities; they consequently made vaccines easily available in these communities, knowing that they could be the difference between life and death. This public health approach must be adapted to the gun violence crisis we are seeing in Black America to minimize death and maximize the quality of life.
I was in 7th grade when I first experienced the impact of America’s gun problem. A fellow student, one who sat at my table in Art 3-D class, brought a family member’s gun to school, forcing us into a three-hour lockdown, and resulting in the student being sent to juvenile detention. This young Black boy’s life was now set back by a mistake — his record another barrier in success and social mobility.
Three years later, I was hiking in southern Israel when two of my close friends received the news of the shooting at their high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida. One of the girls’ younger brothers was best friends with a victim, Alex Schachter. We tried to comfort the girls, but could not fathom what it meant to lose a friend, a teacher, or the positive memory of a school.
And on Monday, I received news of the fatal shooting of a junior from my high school, Moussa Fofana, at the complex where I practiced sports every day after school. Moussa was a beloved student and friend, star athlete, and son of a Liberian immigrant. His friend was also shot, but he remains in a stable condition with a non-life-threatening wound. Moussa’s family must now deal with the most undesirable news – the death of a child – because of the easy ability it is for someone to obtain a gun with bad intentions. I pray for Moussa’s family and friends, and that no one else in my town will ever experience this horror. I hope that Moussa’s murder reminds gun owners in my community of the importance of preventive measures, like locking up guns, that can save a life.
I know statistically as a white woman I am extremely less likely to be shot and killed than a black man, like Moussa. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2019 demonstrated that male Black teens are 20x more likely to be shot and killed than male white teens. This horrifying statistic not only displays the racism still present in America, but it reminds me of the work of protecting those most vulnerable from those with bigoted ideologies and dangerous ideas. Economic justice remains a barrier to lowering gun violence rates in impoverished communities. Gang and domestic violence are as problematic as suicide by gun, and I wish physical and mental health professionals would devote more time to educating young people about the intersectionality of gun violence and socio-economic problems.
I am numb to the ongoing violence in communities of color that result in careless and unnecessary death. Moussa Fofana joins the list of names like Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery who suffered from a mostly white government creating loose legislation which disproportionately impacts those not given the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.
We cannot let “Justice Justice you shall pursue” become a meaningless phrase. If Black Lives Matter then Black lives should be treated with the utmost respect and priority because history is repeating itself with people of color being neglected by those not bothered to look outside of their flourishing communities. As Jews, we stood with Black people during the Civil Rights Movement and we must continue to care for our neighbors. The Torah writes that the Sanctity of Life comes above all else; thus meaning to me that preventing death from gun violence is a Jewish issue. Ultimately, Judaism believes in an ideal world with no need for weapons; although I understand that the second amendment is here to stay, I have not lost faith in rebuilding our gun infrastructure and rewriting gun control legislation.
I wish I returned to a better America, one with not only a new leader, but one that would address pressing problems like gun violence. In college, I intend to return to my work with Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and encourage other determined individuals to become involved in Anti-Gun Violence activism. Gun reform is a gradual process, and my generation must demonstrate to Anti-Gun Control members of Congress that the gun industry is hurting more people than they are helping.
We cannot forget Moussa and his legacy; may his life be a blessing and a wake-up call to the work that must be done in establishing a safer and more just world.
Link to GoFundMe for Moussa Fofanas family: