How Growing Up In A Mixed Family Has Affected My Perception Of Gun Violence

black woman with afro looking down amid colored lights
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He had Skittles. He was shot dead.

After Trayvon Martin was killed in February 2012, I remember replaying those facts in my mind over and over. Prior to his death, I knew that life could be hard on people of color, but the way his murder was dismissed by a court further solidified the fact: America does not care about us. 

As more and more Black and brown folks have been gunned down in the years since Martin was killed — with few if any repercussions for those who pulled the trigger — this country has continued to drive that point home. My breaking personal breaking point came after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in 2014; all of a sudden, I feared that one day my younger brother's name would be reduced to a hashtag linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.

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My brother is a quiet 20-something who loves to sit in his room and draw cartoons. He has a bit of a mouth and an attitude, and suffers occasional seizures. He also happens to be a six-foot-three black man who wears oversized clothing because he's built like Slender Man. Normal shirts look awkward on him. He needs long shirts. To the rest of my family and I, the way he dresses is normal. To the outside world, he looks like a "thug." 

After Brown was killed, I called my brother and told him that if he was ever stopped by police, he should do whatever the officer(s) tell him to do. Given his personality and his seizures, having that conversation with him was vital to me: What if something he did or said was misread? What if police misinterpreted his seizures?

Then there's my older brother. If you stood him next to my younger brother, I'm sure most people would assume the latter was the one with the lengthy rap sheet. See, my older brother has a different dad; he's Hispanic and white, but without a lot of sun, he passes as a white boy from Arkansas — accent at all. But that aforementioned rap sheet? It actually belongs to him: He's currently behind bars for a number of crimes and has done things in the past that have made me hope he's getting some mental help during his time in jail. 

I love both of my brothers and our little mixed family, of course, but I'm saddened whenever I think of how the outside world views both of their lives.

Knowing everything I know about my two very different brothers, my mind has wandered in recent months: What if my older brother someday committed a mass shooting? Would the news ignore his drug-riddled past and his arrests as a teen, instead inventing some romanticized story about his motives? I mean, that's what the media has done in the wake of last month's school shooting in Maryland that left one person dead and one wounded; the gunman was described as a "Lovesick Teen." (Meanwhile, unarmed Black teens have been labeled "thugs" time and time again.)

I love both of my brothers and our little mixed family, of course, but I'm saddened whenever I think of how the outside world views both of their lives. Saddened, because if the black one got shot by a cop and the white one shot someone else, the world would mislabel both scenarios: It would demonize my younger brother, digging up his "troubled" past (like the time he stole a pen from Kmart when he was 12); while glamorizing my older brother's "mishap."

Some may think I'm overreacting, but the blatant differences in how Black and white people are treated when it comes to gun violence make it clear that I am not. In the end, I hope that neither of these horrific situations becomes my brothers' realities — not just because I could never wish that on them, but because I couldn't stand to see how each would be treated by the media and society at large. 

I’d just want the truth in the headlines. For once. The truth.

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KENDRA BELTRAN

Growing up in a double wide trailer in the middle of a California desert, Kendra used her smarts to go to college. Only she didn't realize that adulthood was the next stop after graduation. Struggling to start any sort of career out of a makeshift degree, she fell into blogging. Experiencing a multitude of highs and lows on that path...she wouldn't trade it for a typical 9-5 ever. Today she spends her days writing while simultaneously going back and forth between binging Frasier and The Office.

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