‘A wave of change’: Black activists hail shift in gun violence debate | Gun control in the United States

In 2013, a month after the shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, a group of black pastors and other activists went to the Obama White House to urge the administration to do more to prevent violence. army in communities of color.

Obama had just released his post-Newtown gun violence prevention plan, which included no funding for community violence prevention efforts and made no mention of the disparate impact of gun violence on black Americans. .

When clergy expressed frustration with the White House’s lack of response, an Obama staffer told them there was no nationwide support to fight the violence. urban armed force and that the political will of the Americans was centered on “the question of armed violence which affected the suburbs”. areas – schools where white children were killed”.

Some of those same black pastors who visited the White House in 2013 were invited back for a ceremony on the South Lawn earlier this week.

Congress had finally passed a modest set of compromises on gun violence prevention following another school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. This time, community violence prevention efforts were fully on the agenda, with Congress approving $250 million to fund violence switches and other community efforts.

Joe Biden signs the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a gun safety bill, on June 25. Photography: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

“It’s a full circle moment,” said Pastor Michael McBride, national director of the Live Free campaign, which works to reduce gun violence and mass incarceration. McBride was one of the clergy who publicly expressed disappointment with the Obama administration, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, after Newtown.

Democrats and some Republicans were now prepared to spend federal dollars on “targeted interventions and resources to those most at risk of being shot and shot,” McBride said.

And the $250 million in federal funding for community programs was desperately needed, he added: “Many violence-stopping programs in cities are typically funded seasonally or unevenly, and certainly not at the magnitude of the problem.”

Biden’s speech at the South Lawn ceremony touting the country’s progress in preventing gun violence was cut short by an objection from Manuel Oliver, who lost his 17-year-old son, Joaquin Oliver, in the shooting. Parkland School in Florida in 2018, and who insisted that more needs to be done.

“Partial Victories”

For many violence prevention activists, struggles against the continuing crisis of gun violence were weighed against the value of marking the fact that they had made progress. Some activists who have worked for decades on the issue have said they have seen noteworthy shifts in political rhetoric and action from the White House.

The Reverend Jeff Brown, a Boston-based minister who was one of the collaborators in the “Boston Miracle,” a successful effort to reduce gun homicides in the 1990s, was also present at the event on Monday, and said it was good “to feel that I hope you know, we’re heard”.

It had been “abject disappointment” for Brown in 2013 that the nation’s first African-American president had, he said, ignored calls for more action and funding to prevent everyday gun violence.

Federal funding for community violence interventions in the post-Uvalde violence prevention compromise bill that Congress passed, the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, was “just the beginning,” said said Brown, and “the honest truth is that we really need more.”

In his speeches on gun violence, Biden, a longtime policing propellant, now sometimes stresses the importance of work to prevent violence switches, many of whom are formerly incarcerated or have other justice system involvements. criminal in their past.

Hearing the President of the United States legitimize the contributions of violence interrupters is powerful, said Teny Gross, a longtime anti-violence intervention advocate who directs the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago.

Eddie Bocagnegra, who worked for years as an outreach worker on the streets of Chicago, became a senior adviser to Biden’s Justice Department, an appointment that recognizes the expertise of violence prevention workers in the field with backgrounds. deep ties to the community.

“These are waves of change,” Gross said.

A man wearing a blue March for Our Lives shirt stands in front of a microphone surrounded by a crowd of people.  The White House is visible across the street in the background.
Trevon Bosley, with March For Our Lives, joins gun violence survivors and advocates, in calling on Joe Biden to do more to prevent gun violence. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

Supporters say the changes they’ve begun to see in the gun debate are bigger than the Biden administration. Over the past decade, McBride said, organizers have pushed well-funded national gun control groups, often led by wealthier white activists, to raise awareness of community intervention programs, not simply to fight for new gun laws. They have also attempted to gain allies in law enforcement and to convince some police officers that civilian response programs can benefit public safety.

McBride said there is progress in reframing the debate from a “crime and punishment framework” to a “public health framework,” which is no longer as focused on defining violence as a matter of “personal moral incompetence”.

At the same time, advocates said, the past few months have been tough for anyone working in gun violence prevention. Gun sales have soared during the pandemic. Between two brutal mass shootings, a conservative-dominated Supreme Court dramatically expanded the scope of gun rights, in a ruling that is expected to eviscerate existing gun control regulations.

Gross, who runs a violence response organization in Chicago, says he feels like the sorcerer’s apprentice in Disney’s Fantasia: the small strides they make are overwhelmed by a situation that has spiraled out of control.

During the 4th of July weekend in Chicago, the daughter of one of his staff members was shot, several staff members were shot for several days, and then, on the 4th of July itself, there was a mass shooting targeting a parade in Highland Park that left seven dead and 30 others injured.

“We are drowning in gunfire,” Gross said.

Still, Gross said, it was important to take a moment to recognize the progress organizers have made, over years of meetings in church basements, knocking on doors and flying from town to town across the country. country.

“Organizing — people power — always works, even if there are partial victories,” McBride said.

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