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Black Leaders Address America’s Gun Violence Crisis

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Donna M. Owens, BET, August 9, 2019 | comments

Amid a national chorus of grief, anger, protests and vigils, Black leadership and their allies are speaking out, demanding political accountability, new laws and solutions following the latest deadly mass shootings in America.

Within a 24-hour time span last weekend, lone gunmen opened fire in separate incidents at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on August 3 and an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, on August 4. The shootings left 31 people dead and dozens wounded, including children. 

And just days earlier at a festival in Gilroy, California, a 6-year-old was among three who lost their lives during a gunman’s rampage. The back-to-back shootings are the latest in a series of mass shootings — typically with assault-style weapons -- that have ravaged communities across the U.S.

As everyone from 2020 presidential contenders to celebs weigh in on the tragedy, the Rev. Al Sharpton told BET that America is suffering from a “deplorable” health and human rights “crisis” that can no longer be tolerated.  

“We are looking at the moral decay of the country with people being reduced to beastly behavior,” said Sharpton, president of the National Action Network. The organization has worked on gun-policy issues and offered assistance to victims nationwide. “We’ve normalized settling differences with murder rather than with our minds,” he said. “We all bear the responsibility of putting an end to it.”

The suspected shooter in Dayton was killed by police. Reportedly, the alleged gunman in El Paso (now in custody) posted an online manifesto with white supremacist and anti-immigrant ideology.

Critics of President Donald Trump charge that he bears some blame for inciting what Sharpton termed “racist intolerance and bigotry toward Black and Brown Americans.” The NAACP echoed a similar sentiment. 

“What President Trump refuses to acknowledge is that the racist, white supremacist and xenophobic language he spews has created an increase in racially motivated acts of violence,” the organization said in a statement. “This coupled with the all-too-easy access to guns has created a violent and tragic fate for this country.”

Trump, who on Wednesday visited victims and first responders in El Paso and Dayton (even as some in those cities suggested he stay away), has denied being racist and rejected any culpability in the shootings.

In a recent speech made from the White House, he said, “in one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He added that his administration has asked the FBI to “identify all further resources they need to investigate and disrupt hate crimes and domestic terrorism.”

PROTESTS AND PUSHING FOR NEW LAWS

During a protest rally on Tuesday near the White House, civil rights and gun reform groups joined clergy, mental health advocates and the public. Many held signs, chanted and offered a moment of silence for the country’s latest gun violence victims.

The racially diverse crowd of about 250 people included representatives from Voto Latino, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, MoveOn, Brady United and Service Employees International Union. Other participants included the Labor Council For Latin American Advancement, the American Federation of Teachers, the Human Rights Campaign and March for Our Lives. The latter, founded by high school organizers, led a massive march in the nation’s capital following the 2018 mass shooting of students in Parkland, Florida.

Several speakers took aim at Trump, saying he must stop “denigrating” African-Americans, Latinos and other communities of color, as well as “religious minorities.” 

“Although President Trump did not invent white supremacy, he has given it new life in America,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The civil rights attorney added that U.S. Attorney General William Barr “has yet to offer a plan to address the rise of white supremacist domestic terrorism,” a charge that Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and other lawmakers have made, too. 

The protesters also demanded Congress, specifically the U.S. Senate, act on common sense gun legislation. H.R. 8, the Background Checks Act, has already been passed by the House. Yet the bi-partisan bill is stalled because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has not yet brought the measure up for a vote.

“We have worked vigorously with House Democrats to pass universal background check legislation,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. The lawmaker said the CBC has also backed a gun "loophole" bill introduced by the majority whip, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC).

“Now, we are calling on Mitch McConnell to end the Senate’s recess and pass these measures immediately,” she said. Under pressure from various sides, McConnell said yesterday the chamber will take up gun legislation in September.  

Meanwhile, Trump, who has met in the past with the NRA, has signaled he’s open to supporting some type of gun reform. One recent study showed universal background check legislation is supported by 86% of Americans. 

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a joint statement they each spoke with the president on Thursday. The top Democrats say they believe the best path forward is for the Senate to take up and pass House-passed universal background checks legislation, and for Trump to sign it into law.  

“The president gave us his assurances that he would review the bipartisan House-passed legislation and understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives,” their statement said.

Given the high stakes, some advocates say neither elected officials, nor the nation, can afford to wait. Data from the Gun Violence Archive indicates there have been more than 250 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2019. That’s more than one mass shooting per day, so far, this year. 

“When is enough, enough?” said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, a civil rights and social justice organization. “This is absolute insanity for a so-called ‘civilized’ nation. We must end gun violence now.”

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