I almost died twice in the last couple weeks.
I was carjacked in front of my house as I was getting into my car, gun to my head while he took my purse. A week later they totaled my car.
This weekend I took my 6-year-old daughter and her cousin to North Commons Park; we live one block away and go almost every day. My friend Bri joined us. It was getting dark at 6:30 p.m. so we started walking home. A group of youth to our left started shooting. We have been outside during shootings before and know what to do, we all ducked. Then a group to our right started shooting and we realized we were in the middle of the crossfire. I grabbed my daughter, my friend Bri grabbed my niece and we ran towards the alley behind my house. Some of the kids shooting to our right saw us running in the dark and started shooting at us. Bri and I heard the bullets whizzing past us. We saw lights as we were running, I was confused about where they were coming from until I looked at my chest and saw a blue and green laser on my shirt and realized they were aiming at us as they were shooting. I threw my daughter over my neighbor’s fence and told her to run inside. I turned around to help Bri lift my niece over the fence too.
Hearing gunshots daily is a normal occurrence. Finding bullets and shells in my yard and on the street is a normal occurrence. But twice in the last month the gun was turned directly toward me, and the children I am protecting. I am thankful the two teenagers I parent who live with me were not with us, I know they would have been a target.
So now what? Let’s talk about gun violence.
Usually I have these conversations within my network. I do not like to take up public discourse space because I am not at the forefront of those impacted by this violence. I also fear that my experiences will be weaponized and politicized to support increased police presence, which brings even more violence into our community.
The kids want to know what we are doing to be proactive about their safety and well-being. It is our responsibility as adults to problem solve. I want to tell my daughter and niece that what they experienced is not OK, and that we are working to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This cannot be our normal. What are the steps I am taking? So many of us are burned out and traumatized, we outsource our power in creating solutions.
One thing I do know: the people shooting are usually children, too. Bri and I both taught in Minneapolis Public Schools last year, in the EBD (emotional and behavioral disorder) department. Seeing firsthand the ways that we are failing our youth was painful. I had homeless students on my caseload who were kicked out of school by admin weekly for issues that could’ve been mitigated. Where do you think these kids go when they have nowhere to go? The school to prison pipeline was vividly illustrated and I felt powerless in intervening. I am so disappointed in the ways adults in Minneapolis are failing our youth.
I am not at all surprised that youth resort to interpersonal violence when their entire lives are consumed by violence. Popular discourse inadequately reduces their lived experiences to individual poor choices, we leave no room for real solutions. We need to consider the larger context that sustains violence in poor, racialized communities – and engage in meaningful action.
It is the more difficult approach to invest in people, it requires time and resources and compassion. Our society instead disposes of people because it is easier and profitable. If you care about these issues and want to work towards solutions with me, let’s connect. If you experience gun violence and want a communal space to grieve, vent, exist – let’s make that happen. We don’t have to agree on all of the answers but we need to be working towards solutions together.
Jay Belsito is a resident of Minneapolis’ Northside. Her submission first appeared in a Facebook post and is republished with her permission.