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Williams: On gun violence, we're a nation at risk. We can't run from the consequences of inaction.
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A NATION AT RISK

Williams: On gun violence, we're a nation at risk. We can't run from the consequences of inaction.

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I once ran in Ahmaud Arbery’s shoes, and lived to tell about it.

As a young adolescent in Henrico County during the early 1970s, I was a runner who’d later captain the track and field team at Hermitage High School. During an era when kids had to make their own fun, we’d stage impromptu track meets, jogging around the block or — on one particular day — running the cinder track at Brookland Middle School.

Rather than take the usual long walk up Hungary Road to the school, the four of us took a shortcut through the woods that separated our subdivisions from the white neighborhood that fronted Brookland. This was not done without a bit of trepidation. But as children of integration, we naively assumed that our stroll through the neighborhood would not cause us physical harm.

On our way to the school, two teens buzzed us on a motorbike. Walking through the woods on our way home, we heard the bike again — and then the shotgun blast of buckshot that knocked us to the ground.

Running to safety in our own neighborhood, we told our parents. The police were summoned — the rare appearance of a white face in our all-Black subdivision. An officer dutifully took the report. A half-century later, I recall the palpable anger of adults in our community. The four of us headed to the hospital for tetanus shots, pellet removal or stitches.

And that was it.

There were no arrests, no charges and no justice.

The memories of how that episode played out, and the Arbery murder and trial, are triggering five decades later.

As I write this, the jury is deliberating charges against the defendants in Arbery’s slaying in Brunswick, Ga., as he jogged through a neighborhood. But America has already been found guilty of systemic racism, chronic injustice and lethal indifference in its lax gun laws, its enabling of white vigilantism, and the double standards that deny victimhood to some and abide reckless aggression to others in the name of “self-defense.”

Long before the virus began exacting its deadly toll, our nation was sick and dying from a toxic strain of gun violence unrivaled in developed nations.

We can’t account for human behavior. But the guns are the one thing a civilized society should be able to control. Instead, too many elected officials are more invested in enabling gun industry profits than safeguarding human life.

On Nov. 12, Rah’quan Logan, 14, and Abdul Bani-Ahmad, 9, were killed, and two men were wounded, during a vile and senseless shooting outside a convenience store in Richmond’s East End. Three of the four teens in custody in the shooting are 17.

“It’s pretty clear in America we love our guns more than we love our kids,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. As a result, “we’ve become completely immune to the human suffering guns cause.”

In Kenosha, Wis., 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse killed two men and wounded a third with an illegally purchased AR-15 rifle during a chaotic protest he needlessly inserted himself into. He became a right-wing hero, has been offered congressional internships and was acquitted of all charges.

For those who tsk-tsk about violence in urban neighborhoods, what sort of message does that send?

Armed militia members, no strangers to protests, celebrated the verdict as a victory in the War on Wokeness. The acquittal sent a chilling message to social justice protesters, particularly white ones: Be an ally at your own risk.

“The Second Amendment has absolutely become more important than the First [Amendment] in our country,” Horwitz said. In this context, it’s paramount to keep firearms out of the legislature, polling places and the public square, he adds.

“I’m just really worried ... that the way we think about firearms in America will lead to a shrinking of our democracy, and the level of political violence or the threat of political violence will start to influence policy and degrade our institutions.”

Anyone who observed Jan. 6 knows we’re already there.

When a sitting congressman slays a political opponent in an anime video, and politicians brandish guns in a silly display of tough-guy posturing, you may as well replace the stars on Old Glory with bull’s-eyes.

We’re a nation of Ahmaud Arberys, being pursued by a culture of violence that is snuffing out reason and humanity, from our starkest streets to the halls of power.

We can run but we can’t hide from the truth: If we don’t get control of the guns, the guns will control us.

mwilliams@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6815

Twitter: @RTDMPW

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