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Gun Violence Awareness Month highlights the national epidemic

Letitia James, Public Advocate | 6/22/2017, 1:10 p.m.
Orlando, Newtown. San Bernardino. Aurora. The names of these cities have become synonymous with the devastation of the gun epidemic ...
Public Advocate Letitia James

Orlando, Newtown. San Bernardino. Aurora. The names of these cities have become synonymous with the devastation of the gun epidemic in our country.

Right here in New York City—where there has been an overall drop in crime—there are still shootings in our neighborhoods every single day. As grieving family members and concerned citizens, we have the power to change this situation, and we must act. This Gun Violence Awareness Month, we must recommit ourselves to efforts that will stem the tide of this violence once and for all.

We have a particular responsibility to speak up and demand action because we know the gun violence on our streets is not equal opportunity. The victims of gun violence are the young Black and Latino men in our communities—our sons, our brothers, our nephews and our grandsons. In fact, the leading cause of death for Black men in their early 20s is gun violence.

As New Yorkers, but more importantly as active community members, we each play a role in improving the safety of our city and ensuring our sons have the future that all young men deserve. Every year, we get that opportunity in the form of our vote—on the federal, state and city level. And now, more than ever, it is critically important that we use our voice and our power to demand stricter gun laws.

Voting in local and state elections for representatives who are supportive of strong gun control measures and holding them accountable to their promises are equally important. It is the members we elect who will fight for these laws and measures that are desperately needed.

As a trustee of one of the largest pension funds in New York, I led the campaign to divest these funds from gun retailers. The savings of hardworking New Yorkers should not be invested in such dangerous and risky vehicles, but we also have a responsibility as government officials to address and take on the gun industry whenever and wherever possible.

Which is why we must do more. New York State already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and we must now work to ensure we have fully funded programs in place that get at the root of the problem.

Because although the NYPD has done a commendable job at fighting crime, they cannot end this problem alone. When 40 percent of all shootings in New York City are caused by gang violence, we need engaged community members coupled with government dollars to attack this problem at its root.

That means robust support networks that helps parents get and keep their children out of gangs safely. We need to fund community resources and mediation programs in schools, to teach our young people to solve their problems with words, not guns. We need to fund intervention programs in our hospitals that work with victims of gang violence, and we must provide the funds these critical programs need. Through effective social work, mental health services, housing and job training, we can lead young people away from gang life and renew their sense of hope and opportunity.

We know that in a lot of our communities there is a true lack of opportunity. Too many of our young people do not have access to a quality education or to steady employment, opportunities that would put them on a different path and ensure that a young Black man is no longer five times more likely to die by a firearm than his white counterpart. We must do more to provide these opportunities and provide them equally.

We see these problems, we’ve been to the funerals and we’ve consoled too many friends over the loss of loved ones because of gun violence. But we must do our part to protect our families and our communities, and that begins with engagement and our vote. We can and must take action and demand changes. Never underestimate the power you have as mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters and as citizens to enact change locally. For the sake of our children and their future, we must act now.