It’s happened again. St. Petersburg has lost another young Black mother to gunfire.
The death of 21-year-old K’Mia Simmons comes just months after a similar incident extinguished the life of another young woman, also an innocent victim of rage and violence directed at someone else.
Simmons’ murder last Tuesday evening brings this year’s number of Black lives lost to homicide to 12.
“My heart hurts. My Lord! My Lord!” Council member Deborah Figgs-Sanders lamented on Facebook. “St. Pete, please STOP the violence!”
The anguish of the Simmons family was on full display Thursday. Speaking at a press conference, Linda Simmons pleaded for help to apprehend the person who killed her youngest daughter. Gun violence has to stop, she said.
Tragically, Black people in Florida are seven times more likely than whites to die from gun violence, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, which describes itself as the largest gun violence prevention organization in America.
The CDC, in its most recent report, which addresses gun deaths in 2019, says Black men were nearly eight times more likely to die by firearm homicide than the general population, and 14 times more than white men.
Black females “had the highest risk of firearm homicide among females of all other races and ethnicities,” the report said.
In November, Figgs-Sanders joined fellow Council Member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman to launch an Enough is Enough initiative to combat growing violence in the city’s Black neighborhoods.
Last weekend, though, two young men were murdered hours before the council members and supporters planned to wave signs at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue S to raise awareness for their effort. Tuesday brought more gun deaths, first a 19-year-old man, followed hours later by Simmons, who was a passenger in a car, holding her baby girl. Police say she was not the intended target. Her other daughter was in the back seat. Miraculously, neither child was injured.
“I am deeply saddened,” Figgs-Sanders said, emphasizing that Simmons leaves behind two toddlers, just 1 and 2 years old. “They will never know their mother.”
The Enough is Enough initiative is focused on organizing services to assist survivors of violent crime and plans to contact Simmons’ family to offer help such as counseling and childcare, Figgs-Sanders said. Going forward, the intention is to provide a holistic approach that will connect families coping with gun violence to vital resources, she said.
The plan also is to address violence before it starts. Enough is Enough will enlist the help of “returning citizens” – ex-felons – to speak to those in the community “that no one else is talking to,” Figgs-Sanders said. “We don’t go where they are. We don’t speak their language. And that’s a problem.”
Everytown for Gun Safety says gun violence “reflects and intensifies” America’s longstanding racial inequities. Solutions, the organization says, “must recognize the role of social contagion and local context in cities, and supplement policies and community and data-driven violence intervention initiatives.”
St. Petersburg has programs that focus on restoring hope and teaching life skills and conflict resolution without firearms to youth and young adults. While the programs have shown results since they began in 2016, it’s obvious more needs to be done.
Last year, there were 15 homicides. Of the 10 people who died because of gun violence, nine were Black. This year shows a troubling trend, with the number of homicides already hurtling toward 2020’s overall total.
“As an African-American,” Police Chief Anthony Holloway said of the spate of recent violence unsettling the Black community, “this pains me.”
Kyandra Darling, a young mother herself, seemed to reflect the collective despair in a Facebook post. “I am so tired y’all. This hits home on way too many levels,” she wrote. “I don’t just fear for my own life, I fear for the life of my 4-year-old son, his dad, my mother, my sisters, my grandparents, my cousins and all the other people I love and care about.”
A former legislative aide at City Hall and now a communications and engagement specialist with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, Darling said she is ashamed to admit that there have been moments in the past few months when she’s had to disconnect from it all to protect her mental health.
“I’ve come to learn that this survival mentality that I’ve developed while growing up in South St. Petersburg is not normal,” she said. “Where do we go from here?”
It is overwhelming for Black people, who are disproportionately affected by gun violence. Surely many in St. Petersburg must wonder about the source of the guns that are whipped out in broad daylight to settle scores and end up killing innocent bystanders who leave behind motherless children.
In a broader context, though, we must all confront and solve the issue of guns and the death and anguish they cause. Lest we forget, guns don’t only obliterate lives in a few St. Petersburg neighborhoods, but also in places like schools, universities, offices, massage parlors and even supermarkets.
It’s an issue that can no longer be ignored by any of us, wherever we live.