I recently received a text message from a friend of mine, Tamika Mallory. Mallory is the passionate and resilient executive director of the National Action Network. She sent me an early-morning message to vent about the shootings that ravaged parts of New York City over Labor Day weekend.
Her heart was heavy as she reflected on the senseless shootings that, according to police data, resulted in 13 deaths. In fact, police data shows that 52 shootings over Labor Day weekend claimed 67 victims. Those numbers are alarming and ought to spawn sadness and anxiety.
Mallory’s sadness was mixed with frustration and outrage, because she felt very few people were publicly addressing the shootings. Together, we wondered if the lack of public conversation about these shootings was because the majority of them took place in communities of color.
What if 52 shootings took place in Midtown or downtown Manhattan? Would there have been more public outrage? If 52 shootings had taken place in predominantly white neighborhoods in New York City, would it have prompted a mass outcry against gun violence in the city? It makes one wonder whether there exists in our great city a hierarchy of value when it comes to human lives.
I believe in the sanctity and value of all human life, and that no one life has more inherent value than another. Unfortunately, in our country, there has been a history of the devaluing of lives, especially the lives of people of color. I am well aware that this phenomenon is connected to issues of race and that the roots of racism run deep in our culture. I am also aware that, in many ways, racism is part of the psychological infrastructure that shapes our collective cultural psyche.
Yes, I am aware of these realities, but that awareness doesn’t ease the pain of the fact that the senseless loss of lives in certain communities doesn’t garner the attention it deserves. It might seem idealistic, but I believe that the value of a human life should not depend on one’s ZIP code, socioeconomic status, race, sexual orientation or gender. Again, I believe in the inherent value of all human beings, and our political, social and economic differences ought not to be the lens through which we measure one another. All life matters.
The young single mother trying to raise her children by herself needs to feel that her life matters. The boy who has been labeled with behavioral problems or has attention deficit disorder needs to feel that his life matters. The father who has been recently laid off and is struggling to support his family needs to feel that his life matters. The man or woman living with AIDS needs to feel that his or her life matters. The teenager in foster care who believes he has found a surrogate family in a gang needs to feel that his life matters. The man recently released from prison, trying to put his life back together, needs to feel that his life matters.
All life matters, and I am convinced that the person who believes that his or her life matters will find it difficult to take another life. This is my hope. This is my dream. This is our challenge.