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Jose Alfaro headshot. Jose smiles while wearing glasses and a button down shirt.
Stories

The Latinx Fight Against Gun Violence

One by one on a warm, sunny morning, marchers carried 23 black crosses through El Paso’s Ponder Park, each bearing a name. 

It was August 3, two years after a gunman got in his car near Dallas, Texas, and drove over 600 miles, and opened fire at a nearby Walmart, targeting Latinx people. Surrounding the crosses, a crowd of community leaders, elected officials, survivors, and advocates gathered to pray, to mourn, and to remember the 23 victims killed and the 23 wounded. 

Jose stands in front of the Ponder Park memorial in El Paso for the 23 victims killed and the 23 wounded at a mass shooting in a Texas Walmart

As I stood in Ponder Park, I felt the power of this bi-national border community and this generation’s power motivated to turn the tide against gun violence. The shooting in El Paso caused irreparable damage felt across the country’s Latinx community, and being among the people of El Paso also made me think about my own community and the many shootings in Latinx communities across the United States that never make national headlines.

Growing up in Jamaica, Queens, I learned the sound of gunfire at a young age. We learned how to navigate our neighborhoods on our way home from school, what blocks were gang territories, and how to spot someone who was hiding a gun. I also lived a few blocks from a nightclub, and every so often I’d wake up in the middle of the night to gunfire coming from the club’s direction.

As I grew older, I became more desensitized to gun violence. I remember riding with friends who had guns in their cars without considering the consequences. I stood on street corners with people who stashed guns between buildings or behind trash cans. I was also threatened with a gun. And after a few school announcements mourning the loss of our classmates, I became numb to the reality that this could have been any one of us. This was all before I was 17. 

When I went off to college, I started to see, too, that other neighborhoods disproportionately affected by gun violence share so many characteristics with Jamaica, Queens. Studying and living in Baltimore City and just miles away from our nation’s capital, I saw the impact of what divestment in communities looks like. This crisis is an uneven one, with the bulk of its toll falling on communities like Jamaica, East Baltimore, and Columbia Heights city neighborhoods that are predominantly Black, Latinx, and under-resourced.

The roots of this discrepancy lie in generations of racist policy decisions. Continued underinvestment, under-resourced schools, economic stagnation, and over-policing have limited the opportunities for many young Black and Latinx people. And while our failure to strengthen gun laws affects everyone, it has been particularly deadly for neighborhoods like the ones that I experienced, where traffickers flood the streets with cheap guns available with no questions asked.

The result of all of this is a public health crisis disproportionately affecting communities of color – including Latinx communities.

After joining the gun violence prevention movement, I learned so much about the impact of gun violence on Latinx communities, and here are the stats:  Compared to white people, Latinx people are twice as likely to die by gun homicide. Among young people, this discrepancy is even starker: Latinx children and teens are three times more likely to be killed by gun homicide than their white peers.

This disproportionate toll applies to police shootings, too: Police shoot and kill Latinx people at a higher rate than white people, killing more than 170 Latinx people in an average year.

Unintentional shootings, gun suicide, and hate-motivated violence affect our community deeply, too. And because of inconsistencies in how we’re classified in race and ethnicity data among other reasons our understanding of gun violence’s full toll on Latinx people is limited.

The past year and a half have been hard on our community when it comes to gun violence, just as when it comes to COVID-19. Across the country, cities are seeing troubling increases in shootings, where Black and Latinx communities already bear the heaviest burden of gun violence.

Fortunately, as with COVID and so many other public health crises, Latinxs are on the front lines of the fight against gun violence. 

Latinx outreach workers from groups like QLatinx work to provide resources and support to survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting. In communities hardest hit by violence, Urban Peace Institute is providing a model for violence intervention work across the country by teaching strategies for de-escalating violence. In places like Brentwood, California, Latinx volunteers are raising awareness of secure gun storage to prevent unintentional shootings and suicides in culturally appropriate ways. 

And from El Paso to Capitol Hill, Latinxs are demanding policy change, pushing for background checks on all gun sales, laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and funding for research and local intervention programs.

Since joining Everytown for Gun Safety last year, I’ve seen that while so much work remains, the tectonic plates that perpetuate this crisis are slowly shifting. 

Responding to calls from Black and Latinx-led community-based organizations, the White House has announced a historic investment in community violence intervention programs through their Build Back Better Act, and the House and Senate majorities are working to make that investment a reality. In statehouses and city halls, the tide is turning toward action, too. 

And what gives me the most hope is the kind of solidarity we see from communities across the United States to end gun violence from individual Latinx actors and organizations that lead with love; love for the communities they live in, our people, and families.

Gun violence is a Latinx issue, and our community is responding with action, often far from the national spotlight, but in ways that give me so much hope. There is still so much work to do, and there’s so much we can do together. Únete a nuestro movimiento, porque somos más fuertes unidos. 

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