You might’ve noticed one of the 34 billboards around Charlotte that read: “We’re losing the Black race,” “We can’t all rise if we’re not all here,” or, “Our pandemic: Together we can cure the violence.”
The billboards are part of the 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte’s Stop the Violence campaign. The poignant imagery of people holding guns, bullets and bullet holes are meant to spark community conversation and action to stop gun violence in the city.
The campaign, which also includes community panels and partnerships, started in March.
Why it matters: Charlotte is experiencing some of the highest homicide numbers it’s ever seen, and most of the victims and suspects are young — late teens or early 20s. So far we’ve had 39 homicides in 2021, up from 33 this time last year.
“The (billboard) that states ‘we’re losing the Black race,’ that is very literal in the sense that at night when you turn on the news you see that there is another life lost, and disproportionally that’s going to be from the Black or brown community,” said Johnathan Hill, Vice President of public relations and communications for the 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte.
Flashback: Last year ended with 120 homicides, just under notorious 122 number from 1993, Charlotte’s most violent year on record.
- The 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte put together a similar campaign in 1993 to advocate for an end to gun violence then.
- The population has increased since 1993, from about 490,000 people then to nearly 900,000 today. That means homicides per capita are down, but activists say the overall number of murders in the city is still too high.
The billboards were strategically placed in areas with high rates of violent crime, Hill says. In Charlotte those areas are often grocery deserts with decreased upward mobility, Title 1 schools, and fewer job opportunities.
“We’ll have to dig to get to the root of the issue,” Hill tells me. “Hopefully we’ll be able to provide resources there, because when people have options I believe we’ll have a lot less folks turning to what they have as their only resort, which may be picking up a gun.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted how police violence and systemic racism impacts people of color. Hill says it’s okay to address police reform and violence within the Black community at the same time.
“This was an opportunity for us to say what are we also doing in our own community to also combat what we have going on,” he said.