“They threaten to become a part of who we are—not who we aren’t.” PHI Statement on Mass Shootings and White Supremacy

Statement from Mary A. Pittman, President and CEO of the Public Health Institute

“PHI joins with our staff, our colleagues in public health, and grieving and angry communities across the country in recognizing the ongoing horror and devastation caused by our country’s inaction on gun violence, along with the particular violence and trauma caused when it is fueled by racist and white supremacist beliefs.

“Over the weekend, 10 people lost their lives and three more were injured in a Buffalo mass shooting fueled by racist ideology; 17 people were wounded in a Milwaukee shooting; and a gunman targeted a Taiwanese church in Orange County, CA on Sunday, killing one person and injuring four others.

“Mass shootings in the United States are no longer an aberration; they are commonplace. There were 198 mass shootings in just the first 19 weeks of 2022. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data released last week, in 2020 the US had the highest rate of gun-related deaths in more than 25 years, a jump of 35%.

“The fact that we have that data at all represents the barest of public health successes: it has taken years of intense advocacy to even permit the federal collection of data on gun violence that would allow us to identify national solutions. During 2021, the CDC and National Institutes for Health were able to award grant funds for firearms research for the first time in more than two decades because $25 million was appropriated for gun violence research, split evenly between the two agencies. Congress must act quickly and ensure there is ongoing, dedicated federal funding for gun violence research and prevention. The inaction and lack of political will to drive change is not just appalling. It is costing lives.

“We also must address the white supremacy and anti-Black ideology that underpins many of our nation’s homicides, including the Buffalo massacre. I grew up in Buffalo and frequented shops and farmers markets with my mother in the same neighborhood where shoppers were gunned down, and I work in public health today. I know firsthand how U.S. language, systems and policies that privilege whiteness connect to these acts of domestic terrorism. When we allow for practices that dehumanize people of color—including refusing to acknowledge our history of enslavement of Black people in education and health policies, immigration and reproductive justice policies that disproportionately penalize people of color, the disproportionate enforcement of police and carceral violence on Black men and people of color—we become complicit.

“These acts of mass violence target cultural institutions—schools, churches, and community hubs like Buffalo’s Tops Friendly Markets—and they unravel our social fabric. With continued inaction to address these public health crises, they threaten to become a part of who we are as a nation—not who we aren’t. I believe we can do better. I’m grateful to the partners, communities and local leaders who have led this work for decades. PHI will continue to push alongside them. But it will take all of us, and all of our political, social and personal will, to do things differently.”

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