Gun violence demands action

7/22/2016, 2:18 p.m.
As the Republican Party holds its national convention in Cleveland, Americans remain shaken by the shootings of police in Dallas ...
Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Jesse L. Jackson Sr.

As the Republican Party holds its national convention in Cleveland, Americans remain shaken by the shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., following the police shootings of black men in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, Minn. I spoke at the funeral of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, weeping with his family and friends as they remembered and mourned their loved one who was slain on July 5 by police officers.

I later spoke to the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives in Washington, D.C., where I was surrounded by police leaders from various communities. I witnessed their tears as they mourned the deaths of their fellow police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas.

There is a national call for mourning, for a conversation, for peace. But we need more than a conversation, more than weeping for our lost loved ones. We need common sense and action.

The police now are stupefied. They face people armed with weapons of war — assault rifles designed for battlefields, not for American street corners. There is no defense against snipers armed with such weapons. No police chief in America supports easy access to military-style weapons. They want these weapons banned. The call for such bans used to have bipartisan support. Now the gun lobby has turned it into partisan gridlock. Those who loudly proclaim that they fully champion law and order simultaneously allow police enemies to be armed to the teeth. But the police are crying out even as they are being buried to be protected from these weapons.

Some on the right denounce Black Lives Matter, blaming the protesters for fanning antagonism toward the police that triggers the attacks on them. This doesn’t make sense.

Black Lives Matter’s nonviolent demonstrations began after numerous videos revealed blacks being shot at point-blank range by police. Following some of these incidents, police witnesses filed false reports, covering up what happened. Police killings without accountability sparked nonviolent demonstrations across the country.

The discipline of the demonstrators has been impressive. In fact, the demonstrations deter violent attacks by offering a nonviolent outlet for pain and outrage. They have not created the tensions between the police and the community. Rather, unabated police shootings and mistreatment of African-Americans have caused the tension. The videos do not cause the tensions. They simply ensure that those outside the black community can now see with their own eyes what African-Americans have known for a long time.

The two men who killed police in Dallas and Baton Rouge did not come out of the Civil Rights Movement. They came out of the military, where they were trained to shoot, to make bombs, to ambush, to kill. They were veterans of war, not of the nonviolent movement that seeks justice for all. They returned from risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to communities plagued by real economic fears and racial anxieties. Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, yet mental health assistance is too limited and weapons of war too readily available. The mix is toxic and sometimes lethal.

Law and order bluster won’t solve this challenge. Neither will level-headed conversations between police and communities. We need action such as background checks to keep the mentally unbalanced and those on terrorist lists from buying guns. Doing nothing means things will get worse. Police are on edge for good reason. Civilians are on edge about the police for good reason. Military assault weapons flood our communities. The violence diverts attention and action on real needs such as jobs and housing, schools and health care. Enough bluster. It is time for common sense and action.

The writer is founder and president of the national Rainbow PUSH Coalition.