Friday, May 27, 2016

Gun violence, Black Lives Matter, and poetry

The other day, over on Facebook, the poet-scholar Yao Glover asked "how is gun violence in the street not the same as Black Lives Matter?"

Black Lives Matter (BLM) apparently has a somewhat clear focus, responding primarily to police violence against unarmed black people. Although police brutality obviously often involves deadly shootings, there are apparently many more moving parts associated with gun violence in the streets. Here in St. Louis and other cities across the country, you frequently hear about shootings involving:
• gang disputes
• drug disputes
• domestic disputes
• robberies
• self-defense
• stray bullets
• accidents (i.e. smallest fingers on the trigger)
Activists associated with BLM often have clearly defined opposition: problematic police officers, police departments, district attorneys, or mayors. The vigils for people who have been murdered or community marches addressing gun violence are somewhat general, with chants like "Stop the violence."  

BLM rightly and nobly highlights the justified fears black people have with police officers. The fears people have with gun violence definitely includes but is hardly limited to police. Here, people are fearful about getting by stray bullets, by rival gangs, by a violent boyfriend, in a carjacking, and so forth. Many of the young guys will tell you that they got guns to protect themselves against the other young guys with guns.      

Yao, along with poet-scholars Tony Bolden, William J. Harris, and I have been having a long-ranging conversation or series of conversations about African American poetry and how audiences shape production and reception. I know it's a big stretch to link discussions of poetry with gun violence and BLM, but it does occur to me that audiences matter in important ways in all the cases. Here in St. Louis, for instance, the BLM protests attracted media, out-of-towners, white and black audiences in ways that the results of local violence rarely do.

A notebook on gun violence 

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