Katoya R Palmer
Interview: Marvin Marshall
How do you define the problem of gun violence?
The problem of gun violence is a disease, like violence, overall, is a disease. Gun violence is one of the symptoms of that disease. It is something that should be deemed as a public issue. It's something that we look at like it's a community thing or a gang thing, but it's not. When you look at different acts of gun violence -- whether you look at police violence, state violence, war, whether it's justified or not -- it will determine how you view that. So, community gun violence is a symptom of the disease of overall violence.
When did the problem of gun violence show up in your life?
Gun violence, for me? It's crazy, because this training had us do a lot of reflecting, and so when I think back: Violence, without any guns, started in the household. The first fight I ever saw was my father fighting my uncle, and I was so young, I didn't really have the context of what was really going on. I processed that later, like: Oh, my dad was just doing what he had to do. But when we started to think about when we were infected with violence, it started very young, before I even was outside, before I even had any understanding of a lot of bigger things, bigger ideas. So, violence overall started in the household.
Gun violence? A kid, when I was in elementary school, got killed at home. Now this wasn't gang violence or anything like that. I want to say it was like a firearm being left out or something like that: Kids playing with a gun. But he was a kid I went to school with, and I was aware that he died, and he got shot. So that was the earliest memory of gun violence that I was aware of. Then as far as personally impacted by guns, I want to say I bought my first gun when I was like 13; when I was like 13, I bought my first gun. And that was more so just for protection, just in case we were outnumbered anywhere. My friend circle wasn't that big. Being in the South End from Genesee, it wasn't like I had a million friends, so there was any chance that we might be outnumbered. And so we bought a gun-- well, I bought a gun, but it was kinda like all of ours, being 13. You know, you shared a lot of things with your friends. At 13, that was the first time I bought a gun and felt like I might need to protect myself to that degree. So, I would say 13 for me.
What do you know about the history of gun violence?
The history of gun violence? I don't know the statistics or anything like that. I do know that America believes in guns, definitely believes in guns. Now, whether or not they believe in Black people having guns is a totally different conversation, but America believes in guns. It's hard to really capture guns because guns don't kill people: People with guns kill people. So, I don't know. It is rough, because on one hand, America targeted the Black community, so a lot of Black people don't know what legal, responsible gun ownership is. So, a lot of times in my peer networks, when we look at guns, it's through an illegal lens and survival settings, whether it be gangs or guns, drugs, and violence, what have you.
So, I don't know the history of guns. I know that they've plagued my community for a long time, as me and a lot of people I know grew up in survival mode, and guns were often that escalation of such a final decision, no longer fighting. I told you, I bought my first gun at 13: That wasn't to go out and kill anybody or to shoot anybody, but it was just in case I might need it. Fortunately enough, I never did have to shoot anybody or kill anybody, but that puts you in the mindset of a 13-year-old growing up in the community. So, I just know that guns have plagued my community personally: I have friends and family members that have been shot, have been killed and have done vice versa. So, they have plagued my community, but I don't want to just put the focus on the guns themselves, because if that's the case, people also stab people. So are knives bad? Should we get rid of all the knives because somebody stabbed somebody? Or do we need to look at other issues and why people choose to do the things they do, the other systemic issues. So, guns: The disease of violence has plagued my community, and guns have often been a tool used to carry out such acts.
What causes gun violence?
I think you look at people being in survival mode, and I think conflict resolution is something that we need to teach a lot to the young people growing up. I think the biggest difference between when I was a kid and today's kids: There's more access to guns. So, when we even talk about anything in the community, it’s the access to it. We talk about college, more young Black men and women or young people going to college, well, we gotta start with giving them access to the resources. But now there’s more access to guns, so a lot more young people are having guns. There's a lot more accessibility with social media. You can disrespect a million people from your living room, and you don't ever have to come into contact with them. And so social media has kind of heightened or shined a light on a lot of the things going on. And I think that more young people having access to guns is definitely adding to what's going on.
What do you believe is a solution to ending gun violence?
I think that ending gun violence would be, 1: Something that's not gonna happen overnight. I think at the end of the day, we have to reach towards healthy community. When we look at gun violence as a public-safety, a public-health issue, and everybody in community is concerned with ending gun violence, then I think that we, as a collective, as a collaborative will start to come up with solutions. As I was just talking about before, when you look at doing mentorship with young people: I can try and support a young person as much as I want, but if I get them to stop doing X, Y, and Z, whatever those problematic behaviors are, I have to be able to replace that with something positive. So, if I get a young person to stop hustling, can I get them a job?
So, even outside of the mentorship piece, how can I engage with the local employers that'll also look into hiring this young person, so everybody has some skin in the game. That is what I think will ultimately, at the end of the day, allow us to reach toward healthy community and combat gun violence.
Healthy community is an environment where young people do not have to be in survival mode, where they're given free-flowing access to resources. When we talk about college: I went to college. I was fortunate enough to go to college, but I went to college when I got out of prison. I ended up in prison for a few years, and I was fortunate enough to go to one of the only prisons in Washington state that still allows inmates or incarcerated people to go to college. So, I got my two-year degree inside, at Walla Walla, and then I was fortunate enough to come out and apply for college here in Seattle and finish my degree. But everybody's not fortunate enough to be able to do that, and being a first-generation college student, I didn't have the exposure to higher education like that. Even when it came time for filling out my FASFA, I didn't have any of my friends and family members to lean on for those experiences. I put all my eggs in one basket: I applied to one college. It was either I was going there or not. But had I had that muscle memory or friends and family, that network to lean on, then maybe I would have known that you should probably apply to a few different colleges and see where you get accepted to. Saying all that to say: A lot of this is about exposure and being able to expose them to other things. So, when we look for healthy community: I think that that is, at the end of the day, the way in which we combat gun violence: a healthy community.
What is your vision for the Beloved community when gun violence is eradicated?
I think as I just alluded to: Healthy community, where there's free-flowing resources in and out of the community, when we can celebrate Black excellence, where young people can grow and prosper, and we can start to unpack some of the stigmas that plague our community. Like for instance, when we talk about the Black community and mental health: You hear about it more now, but not nearly as much as you need to. Nobody diagnoses the PTSD from growing up in the hood, when you have friends and family members that have been shot and killed, and you're around so much violence. Why don’t we diagnose that? If I was in the war and experienced some of these things, then I'd be considered a veteran, and we would be diagnosing some of the things that I'm going through. But I have young people that I work with that have experienced far worse than a lot of veterans. And I'm not down on any veterans – I got family members that were in the service – but just speaking to the point of: We don’t diagnose growing up in the neighborhood or being an ex-gang member the same way. We don't look at it in the same lens.
I think that that's one of the important things, when you look at violence as a disease, you start to change the conversation, you're looking at it through a different lens. You stop looking at people as being innately bad or evil, and you start to look at them as being sick, and you can cure something that you're sick from.
So, I think at the end of the day, it will look like healthy community, and the biggest thing I think is the access to resources: being able to support young people and allow them to grow and allowing young Black boys to be vulnerable. That's what I'm teaching my sons. I have two young sons, and as I'm looking at them growing up in Seattle, how can I teach my young boys – my young kings – that they can be vulnerable and still strong, that it's okay to not be okay sometimes? So, just giving them the things that I didn't have as a young person growing up in Seattle.
What is your call to action for ending gun violence?
My call to action would be that: We are all family. When we look at this community: Each one, teach one. The more you know, the more you owe. I am my brother's keeper. In a sense, that's just a mentality that I think more of us need to carry in everything that we do, supporting each other, helping each other. And that is reaching towards, again, healthy community. What does that look like when we can help each other grow? When you meet up with your partners, your friends, whatever you call 'em, and you guys are talking about business ventures, instead of some of the things that plagued my childhood. So, my call to action would be to grow together. That's a big one.
Then there's also like the, the context: Who am my calling to action? If I'm talking to politicians, that's one thing; if I'm talking to other providers that do this violence-prevention work, that's one thing; if I'm talking to young people that we work with, that's a totally different thing. So, the first few answers I gave you are kind of general, that everybody should carry into whatever lens they're looking through, whatever walk of life they come from. But I would say that we all need to try and create healthy community. Regardless of what your definition of healthy community is, let's try to get there. Because even if your definition is slightly different from mine, it's probably not slightly off from where we need to be. So, healthy community: that would be my call to action. Let's continue to try to find those answers and find that common ground on healthy community.