So we’re down in Memphis, Tennessee to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and there’s a mix of emotion in the air. There’s an obvious sense of pride as we honor Dr. King’s legacy and all that he was able to accomplish in just 39 years; but as we think about him, we’re reminded that Dr. King was also a victim of gun violence.
This is often lost on people. When we reflect on his death, we think mostly about racism and hatred, but we don’t always talk about the gun violence that took place on that day.
And we’re seeing so much of this happening around the country today. Black America is particularly hurting after Stephon Clark’s murder by Sacramento police. Shot down in his grandmother’s backyard, 8 bullets in his back and for what? And I just heard about the murder of Decynthia Clements in Illinois, shot 3 times by law enforcement as she exited her car, for what?
So while we’re honoring Dr. King, we need to ask ourselves: What would he be doing within this socio-political climate?
Would he just be gathering to have special events? Or would he be registering voters, protesting and rallying to force legislative change?
The organizers of this weeks MLK50, were intentional in titling this occasion, “Where Do We Go From Here,” because commemoration is not enough. There must be forward movement.
We have to be really serious about our next steps and we must be very strategic in our approach. This is an ‘all hands on deck’ type of issue.
Let’s start with what has already happened to bring international awareness to America’s gun violence prevention movement.
On March 14th, the Women’s March Youth group, Empower, led nearly 2 million people in the #Enough school walk out protests. Then on March 24th, there was the historic mass mobilization, March for Our Lives, in Washington, DC. And make no mistake, grassroots organizers have been sounding the alarm about this issue for decades. Therefore, any movement around gun violence must center the voices of those on the ground, like Erica Ford & AT Mitchell in New York City and Pastor Michael McBride in San Francisco, CA.
So this is great because the foundation has been set. There are groups invested in doing the work and we can see some real engagement happening from a number of communities and in various ways around peace and safety.
This is important for those of us who have unfortunately known gun violence long before others were concerned. We know the kind of gun violence that looks like the guy shot dead in the stairwell of our project buildings, the mentally ill woman shot by police or the three year old baby who got caught in the crossfire of a drive by shooting. And now white children, their families and other communities are tuned in and have decided to join the gun control movement in numbers that we haven’t seen in the past.
Gun violence is now being recognized as an intersectional issue. Which means that there are other voices are at the table and people are beginning to see it from multiple perspectives. But this CANNOT be an “us or them” movement! When we are truly intersectional, our mission is the same, even when our tactics are not aligned.
Some of the demands included in the platform of these incredible young activists are not new, but they are bringing new energy to the following (to name a few):
- Universal, comprehensive background checks
- A Ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines; and
- Putting a stop on legislation that will arm teachers
But for black people our focus has to be on gun violence as a public health crisis. We can’t talk about gun violence without extending the conversation to include how law enforcement officers are utilizing guns. Because when we have an Alton Sterling, a Stephon Clark and a Korryn Gaines exclusively happening to black people, we must include police involved shootings in the conversation about gun violence prevention.
Some of what it looks like to define gun violence as a public health crisis is:
- More resource workers in schools versus more law enforcement
- Increased funding to grassroots organizations who employ formerly incarcerated individuals and other credible messengers
- Research for preventative measures and alternatives to incarceration led by black and brown experts
- Investment in community policing models
The goal is to get in front of the issues that drive young people to pick up guns in the first place. This work is most successful when led by people who are directly impacted.
Remember, this massive intersectional work will require a strategic approach and elected officials are a key component to getting the work done.
As we move towards the midterm elections, there needs to be some hiring and firing to make sure that our issues are the agenda.
We have to be tuned all the way in, know who and what is on the ballot, asking the right questions of every candidate—whether they are an incumbent or not. We must also make sure that ‘loddy, doddy, and errrboddy’ is registered to vote.
I’ll leave you by sharing a small bit of my personal story… When my son was 2 yrs old his father was shot and killed and left in an embankment for nearly 2 weeks before his body was discovered. At this time, I couldn’t just sit in my personal pain. I had to get a firm grasp on my understanding of what viral injustice is, the kind of injustice that starts like a small infection but lingers, gets worse and spreads like only a virus can. Gun violence is permeating throughout our society, nobody is safe and the next victim could be anyone of us. Your child can be shot at school, your mother can be shot at church, you could be shot by a trigger happy police officer. So as my colleague, ‘the raptivist’ Mysonne Linen says, ‘we, don’t have the right to do nothing.’
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