Gun violence in the US

We spent most of this week discussing gun and gang violence as well as the criminal justice system in the US, particularly in Salinas. We were privileged to hear the different perspectives of individuals from various backgrounds: a former gang member, prisoners, police officers, correctional officers, survivors of sexual and physical violence, a public defender, a prosecutor, a person working in Rancho Cielo, and governmental officials working to eliminate the problem. It was extremely interesting listening to their different stories and experiences as well as their own perspectives on the causes of crime and violence.

Most of these individuals agreed that there are root causes to this problems, particularly, poor economic conditions, extreme inequities, relative deprivation, lack of guidance, the desire to have a sense of belonging, child abuse, and dysfunctional homes. One individual stressed that Latinos “need to learn how to be better parents”, and another pointed that all the youth he has worked with experienced some sort of domestic abuse. The pastor noted that we need to reestablish the value of relationships, familial ties, and morals. Similarly, the public defender said that “no one is born choosing this life”; she said that most of her clients have mental health issues, the state hospital is very backlogged and that there is a low standard for insanity according to the law. She said that perpetrators of child molestation are almost always victims of the same crime themselves.

However, these issues are not only present in the US – they exist all around the world. Other countries experience tremendous poverty, famines, economic inequalities and marginalization. But, why is this such a deep and complex problem here, despite the US having the highest incarceration rate in the world? I think this paradox is just mind-blowing, and it is hard to digest.  One could argue, it is because the criminal justice system works here. People in other countries commit crimes, but they are not being held accountable; hence, the incarceration rates are relatively low. However, the criminal justice systems in developed countries do work, and people are held accountable for their actions. It remains that the rates of gun violence and crimes in these countries are still low. Chief Kelly states that there is a culture of violence in the US, which does not exist in similar countries. I agree. I think the US glorifies individualism, and this capitalist system encourages accumulating financial wealth, even if it is at the expense of other individuals, morals, and values.  Nevertheless, it seems like the US government is doing very little to prevent this violence, which I cannot wrap my head around.  I get it – the NRA lobby is one of the most powerful entities, people, particularly across the South are attached to their right of bearing arms, and yes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but they are using guns to do it, and that needs to be stopped. Clearly, the prison-industrial complex is not effective in eliminating the root causes of the problem, but while long-term plans are implemented to address poverty, relative deprivation, and marginalization, immediate responses to this violence need to take place.

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