When a white gunman opened fire at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Fla., last Saturday, killing three Black people in a racist attack, some politicians, like Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, offered their condolences, while others called for action.
“I want to say to the people of America, do not accept thoughts and prayers from one of these politicians in Florida who have passed this proliferation of guns in their community,” Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, a Democrat, said on CNN the following day. “We need to hold them accountable.”
For many critics, and Black Americans specifically, Saturday’s shooting — which took place in a predominantly Black neighborhood near Edward Waters University, a historically Black college — felt like another tragic episode of hate-fueled deadly violence that seems increasingly frequent.
Just last year, an 18-year-old white gunman killed 10 Black people at a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y. In 2015, a 21-year-old self-avowed white supremacist killed nine Black people during a Bible study class at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. In both instances, the shooters left manifestos sharing their desire to eradicate Black people.
While racial violence has affected nearly every ethnic and racial group in the United States, for African Americans it’s been a pervasive element of life — from lynchings to police killings — since they were forcibly brought to America in 1619 to today.
And across the board, reported hate crimes in the U.S. are on the rise. A new study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, provided exclusively to Yahoo News’ partner USA Today, has found the number of hate crimes reported to police in 42 major U.S. cities rose 10% last year from the year before. For the country’s largest 10 cities, the number of reported hate crimes rose even more — 22% from 2021 to 2022.
Read more on Yahoo News: Florida Black community's anger at Ron DeSantis spills out after the racist Jacksonville shooting, via NBC News
How did we get here?
Some people blame rhetoric from politicians as the root cause of an increasing number of massacres, while others blame loose gun laws.
"The increase in polarization, the availability of guns and the virality of white supremacy is, tragically, a hallmark of political culture in the U.S. It's deadly and dangerous for much of our population and, outside of the U.S., is viewed as shocking and incomprehensible," Dr. Anya Schiffrin, senior lecturer at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, told Yahoo News.
There have been 477 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year through Wednesday, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are injured or killed, not including the shooter. Though mass shooting numbers fell slightly in 2022, since 2018 mass shootings have gone up by nearly 100 each year — the effects of which are not equal across the board.
Each day on average, 34 Black Americans are killed by guns and more than 110 experience nonfatal injuries, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.
Read more on Yahoo News: Jacksonville shootings: What we know about the racist killings, via AP
‘Brutal fascism or flawed democracy’
Many experts question whether the issue is bigger than solely guns or politics.
“The bevy of Black people being attacked or murdered by people who hold political ideologies that mirror a dominant and powerful party in the American political system — these mark the beginnings of a genocide attempt,” Dr. Danielle K. Brown, political communication researcher and professor of journalism at Michigan State University, told Yahoo News.
In a writeup in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week, columnist Will Bunch warns that unmitigated power ahead of the next election could mean deadly attacks like these becoming the norm.
“These are the stakes: dueling visions for America — not Democratic or Republican, with parades and red, white, and blue balloons, but brutal fascism or flawed democracy,” Bunch wrote.
“What we are building toward on Nov. 5, 2024, might have the outward trappings of an election but it is really a show of force. What we call the Republican Party is barely a political party in any sense of the word but a dangerous antisocial movement that has embraced many of the tenets of fascism, from calls for violence to its dehumanizing of ‘others’ — from desperate refugees at the border to transgender youth.”
Yahoo News reached out to more than a dozen political science and journalism experts across the country to best understand, from their perspective, why the proliferation of attacks against African Americans should not be seen as isolated one-offs, but instead a part of a bigger issue that goes beyond partisan politics.
Here are what five academics had to say:
Robert Shrum, co-director of USC’s Center for the Political Future
“There is a web of racism that envelops this country and it's a minority, but it’s a minority that can go get an AR or an AK and go and inflict tremendous damage. It has antecedents that stretch back 50, 60 years.
“What happened in 2016 [when Trump was elected] was that racists were given permission to get out from under the rocks. Then you had something like Charlottesville and [in recent years] it expanded from African Americans to Jews. Now, when you [consider] the fact that forces in the society have given their stamp of approval to this kind of racism, combined with the fact that you can so easily get weapons of mass destruction, you’re getting these shootings and no amount of sympathy and prayers are going to stop it.”
Dhavan V. Shah, journalism and mass communication professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison
“I fear we are at a low point in terms of deliberative norms. Elites don’t listen or compromise. Our analysis of social media shows less debate and more encamped reinforcement of views, with little thoughtful back and forth. And we are socially sorting in different communities and social networks, with the tendency toward homophily. The degree of hateful speech and imagery on social media is rising, and support for a range of social institutions, including the rule of law (FBI, justice system, police, etc) at all time lows.”
Dr. Danielle K. Brown, political communication researcher and journalism professor at Michigan State University
“The reduction of the dystopian trajectory of the United States to simply ‘politics’ is, indeed, erroneous and short sighted. And I would venture to say it’s disinformation to call them ‘one-offs’ or ‘isolated’ — we have a history of these events happening and we, oftentimes, have the paper trails that explain away ‘lone actor’ narratives.
“We are [at] a critical point where we should be concerned about the potential for our country to attempt genocide while turning a blind eye and using all the wrong words.”
Dannagal Young, political science and communication professor at the University of Delaware
“The Republican party is growing increasingly homogeneously white, Christian, rural, while the Democratic party is growing more racially and ethnically diverse, agnostic and secular, and urban/suburban. When a group is internally ‘the same’ to the extent that today's Republican party is, it stimulates all kinds of primal, social-identity-driven dynamics – they are more activated by threats to their party, more emotionally aroused, more engaged, more readily mobilized. And because Republicanism increasingly overlaps with whiteness, Christianity, and ruralness, threats to one = threats to all.”
Khadijah Costley White, journalism and media studies professor at Rutgers University, with a focus on race and gender in media and politics
“I think in the last 20 years, we have moved from the idea that our two key political parties are guided by specific interests and values to a period in which people have picked their teams and settled in.
“During the 1960s, there was a lot of transition as people moved from the Republican Party to the Democrats, or vice versa, during efforts to end American racial segregation. The parties were actually fighting to brand themselves and articulate their values to voters, and the push to allow Black citizens access to votes reshaped elections and the parties themselves. Now, our politics have entropied – people vote more often for their political team, not specific politicians. Moreover, people’s resentment about politicians has led to an embrace of self-styled politicians that position themselves as outside of the establishment.”