Views / Opinion

Gun violence is both mundane and an omnipresent threat: Westwood

Living in New Orleans, what’s shocking isn’t the sound of gunfire, but how quickly it becomes quotidian.

Residents, activists, and friends and family members of victims of gun violence march down Michigan Avenue carrying nearly 800 wooden crosses bearing the names of people murdered in the city in 2016 on Dec. 31, 2016 in Chicago, Ill.

Getty Images

Residents, activists, and friends and family members of victims of gun violence march down Michigan Avenue carrying nearly 800 wooden crosses bearing the names of people murdered in the city in 2016 on Dec. 31, 2016 in Chicago, Ill.

A young man stood outside a pharmacy on a busy New Orleans street this week, selling CDs of his music for $5 a disc.

This isn’t unusual here; I’ve seen young men (not so much women) sell music and paintings outside pharmacies and gas stations. My sister, visiting from Vancouver, bought the CD, and listening to it while driving around, we heard him rap about people he’s lost.

He seemed young, maybe not even out of his teens, and the people he wished he could “talk for a minute” with were only 20 or 22. It’s not explicit what they were lost to, exactly, but this is New Orleans, and it’s a safe bet guns were involved.

The city got off to a violent start in 2017. In just the first month of the year, 75 people were hurt or killed by gunshots, a 50-per-cent jump over 2016, which was an usually violent year in its own right. Last year, 604 guns were reported stolen — up 19 per cent from 2015 — in a trend that police say fuels street violence and arms gangs.

More from Rosemary Westwood in the U.S.:

In a way totally foreign to a Canadian, the normalcy of life here exists atop the knowledge that guns are everywhere. Road rage encounters not infrequently turn to shootings. Sitting in my living room, I’ve heard shots a handful of times. It only took a few months before that fact stopped surprising me, and I play the same game as my neighbours: Gunshot or fireworks?

The news headlines become routine. A man was shot in an apartment complex in the city’s east end on Sunday.

Two men and a woman were killed (and another woman injured by a shot to the head) in the Metairie suburb on Wednesday. Last week, a 30-year-old mother and her six-year-old and 10-year-old sons were all shot dead.

In a recent piece for NPR, a reporter noted how mundane all this violence has become, how people absorb it into their daily lives as fact, endure it like the weather.

But it’s not exactly that simple. Gun violence is both mundane and an omnipresent threat. It’s a psychological underpinning to otherwise innocuous decisions you might make, such as what street to walk down, or whether to flip the bird to another driver. And that’s coming from a white ex-pat woman, in a city where 70 per cent of those killed by guns are black men, according to a recent report in the Gambit newspaper.

The same report found that my neighbourhood, a predominately black one, is part of a district disproportionately violent compared to other whiter, more affluent parts of town — just one of the myriad ways black New Orleanians face a drastically different life than their white counterparts.

With U.S. President Donald Trump’s crusade against “inner cities,” the long-debunked “law and order” approach is reigning again in Washington, even though we know that violence is learned, that offenders have often been victims and ending the cycle requires dramatic improvements to health, education, employment and safety. But perhaps the most frustrating fact is just how easy it is to drop into a city so emblematic of this country’s racial inequality and extraordinary gun violence, and feel the current of acceptance pull you in, even just a little.

More on Metronews.ca