By Antonio Moore, Special to the AFRO

Growing up in the heart of East Baltimore, or “Down da Hill” as us natives say, I am no stranger to guns. They can often be seen resting on the hips of our neighborhood crews, stashed under tires, and is always a showstopper during conflicts. As young people, we see the subject of guns infused in every aspect of our lives. We hear about them in music, in war stories of neighborhood beefs, and conversations even arise at the school lunch table. 

On my side of town, it is normal to have a gun. You either own one yourself, or you’re a phone call away from a strap. Ironically, you can probably find a gun faster than you can find a job here.

Balloons released at a candlelight vigil for 16 year old Milton Carrington. (Courtesy Photo)

Me and my friends were always fascinated by guns. I would watch with curiosity as the older kids would light fireworks in the back alley to drown out the sound of them firing off a few gunshots. 

The demand for guns and, ultimately, gun violence got worse as I grew older. Myself, and other young men like me, came to the realization that guns weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I had grown to accept gun violence as a part of everyday life in Baltimore because denying my reality would just make life in the hood more difficult and even worse, lethal. 

Shrine and candlelight vigil for 17 year old Antonio Skipwith. (Courtesy Photo)

Guns are how people settle beefs. In my early teens, we would fist-fight our way to a resolution, if there was a conflict at hand. Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon for young men to jump straight to acts of gun violence when faced with adversity. The fault is not completely their own, constantly witnessing shootings and hearing blatant stories of murder puts people in a constant state of militance and survival. 

Young men my age are quick to warn that they aren’t afraid to shoot, and those threats are not to be taken lightly. 

According to the Baltimore Sun’s homicide database, out of the 274 homicide victims reported in Baltimore city, in 2018, 64 of them were black males under the age of 25.I believe that everyone should be held responsible for their actions, but it would be foolish to not take into consideration that the shooter is merely a victim themselves.

Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang comments after a Twitter conversation with Antonio Moore about the realities of gun violence. (Courtesy Photo)

“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth” — African proverb.

Baltimore’s youth endure each day bearing the weight of trauma and pain from their experiences. Surrounded by rundown neighborhoods, we live in a constant state of hopelessness, anger, and adversity. These feelings create a powerful, toxic force that influences how we learn, grow, and interact with one another.

That pain and trauma is also carried with us into adulthood. The public school system misses the mark in providing a, much needed, culturally responsive curriculum like conflict resolution and mental health. So, conflict resolution becomes what Baltimore O.G Dennis Wise describes as “Sink or Swim.” Without guidance on managing emotions or what real masculinity looks like, we navigate hostile confrontations and conflicts with blinding anger, and acts of violence.

There are constant psychological nuances that entice the criminality of young Black males in Baltimore City and associate wrongdoing with Black juveniles. The media would rather spin demonizing headlines of juvenile mischief and crime rather than putting the spotlight on rising artists, leaders, scholars, and athletes.

In a public tweet posted after a reported juvenile “mass gathering” at the harbor this spring, the Fraternal Order of Police Union President Mike Mansuco incites fear and hostility in the responding officers with bold and belittling statements.. In the face of Baltimore’s youth, Mancuso says to the police officers “keep the consent decree in mind”, and “don’t fall into the trap that they are only kids, some are criminals”.

You see, guns have become deeply rooted in the way of life growing up and living in Baltimore City. It is an uphill battle to change both the narrative and the reality of the situation. Gun reform, in a policy approach, is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to saving the lives of our people in Baltimore City. But we are fighting a system beyond laws. A White supremacist system, that feeds off the oppression of marginalized communities, and whom past policies have created racial segregation and disinvestment in our city. The murder rate in Baltimore has become a testimony to the effects of the system, the city ferments with anger, unaddressed trauma, and despair that leads to daily gun violence. 

Antonio Moore is a native Baltimorean and co-founded of Students Demand Action Baltimore, which is an organization that works to end gun-violence. Follow Antonio on Instagram @Lorr_Tone, or by email at [email protected].