“We in the movement have been talking about gun violence as a disease–as a public health issue, not a public safety issue–for a long time,” said youth and anti-violence activist Andre Mitchell. “Gun control deals with gun supply, but we are talking about gun demand.
“We want to reduce the idea that people want to use guns to resolve a dispute–but when someone has a mental health issue, it could be a question of how they are dealing with stress. It could be about having a lack of finances, housing, peer pressure or bullying.”
The CEO and founder of community empowerment organization Man Up added that the response to Newtown once again uncovers a great imbalance. “There is a disparity when looking at the Black versus the suburban communities. In the ABC–American Black Community–the issue is more to do with the handgun than assault rifles like in the ASC–American Surburban Community. There is a correlation, though, because it is still gun violence. It is one and the same but slightly different.”
On Friday, Dec. 14, gunman Adam Lanza, 20, walked into Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and murdered 20 children and six staff members.
Promising that it will not be a talk shop with folks writing a report at the end of their yakking, President Barack Obama appointed vice-president Joseph Biden to head a gun commission focused on immediate anti-gun violence action. Obama announced that he would support the reintroduction of the anti-assault rifle ban, and the closing of all gun show loopholes where people can buy weapons without a background check. Biden, one of the authors of the original assault weapons ban that passed Congress in 1994, told the media that he would meet with pro- and anti-gun advocates, elected officials, community leaders and mental-health professionals.
“When a mass shooting takes place in suburbia, it becomes the most important topic in the news. Before Newtown, it was Hurricane Sandy and the fiscal cliff, but when the shooting happened, it became the topic of the day. So even though the shootings in our community is ongoing, it doesn’t have the same effect to stop the country. We don’t get the same type of treatment,” said Mitchell, a certified Violence Interrupter.
The outcry after Newtown was immediate and international. From just a few hours after the bloody attack, the press called it “the second-deadliest school shooting in American history.”
New Black Panther Party youth minister Divine Allah, based in the gun-violence-ravaged Trenton, noted, “When the media plays on that, it just automatically sets up a scenario for a next psychotic killer to decide to beat the number of people killed,” he said. “The media sensationalizes the whole incident in a society where violence is glamorized anyway.”
“This is the most violent nation in the world,” charged Mitchell. “Nowhere else do you see mass killings like this with this frequency. But this government is centered in violence. We are engaged in more wars that any other nation, plus when this many of these soldiers come back with certain mental issues.
“Then there all the video games, then the big Hollywood movies with the Schwarzeneggers and the Stallones–all surrounded by violence. A report just said that if you watch TV for just one day, you can see 26 murders; and that has an impact on the psyche of the person watching it, child or adult.”
With U.S. mass killings like Virginia Tech, Columbine and Aurora back in the general public consciousness, on Friday, Dec. 21, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre stated that the solution for a bad gunman was a good one, and that every American school should have an armed guard. Rev. Al Sharpton called his statements “asinine.”
“As I reflect on the lives lost in this horrific tragedy [in Newtown], something must be done–yesterday. Guns in the wrong hands (mentally ill, criminals) will always end in disaster. At the core of all acts of violence is unresolved, unspeakable, unbearable wounds, trauma, pain and scars–we have to do more to stabilize this issue,” said Terrie M. Williams, mental-health advocate and author of “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting.”
Praising Obama’s appointment of Biden to head the gun violence task force, Williams said, “a major component of this initiative will be a mental health coalition. I will continue to do everything in my power to educate the public about what depression and other mental illnesses look like, sound like and feel like in an attempt to prevent future horrific tragedies.”
Former mayor and current Columbia professor David Dinkins stated, “We must each become advocates for those who wish to keep themselves and their families from harm’s way, but who find obstacles in the National Rifle Association and its gun lobbyists that promote (as Mayor Michael Bloomberg called it) ‘god-awful pieces of legislation’ that gut programs that cities need to keep our residents safe … and contribute to the deaths of more than 30,000 Americans every year.”
Dinkins was the architect of the “Safe Streets, Safe City: Cops and Kids” criminal justice plan when he was mayor of New York City in the ’90s.
“We don’t believe that the proliferation of guns can ever stop in our community, because we have always been asking how these high-powered handguns have been making their way into the hands of our kids; and our numbers speak 10 times the number of these suburban communities,” said Mitchell, who walks the streets of East New York dealing with the youth there when he is not meeting with other community leaders and city and state politicians.
“There has to be a people-versus-politicians movement, where the people put pressure for what they want them to do as opposed to the lobbyists and the NRA. The people represent the fire that can be put under their feet.
“People in the inner city and the ABC–we, the people–need to put up our own solutions. In Newtown, there have been so many support groups and charities that have been started. We need to organize are own Peace and Relief Fund that can give money to grassroots groups, and not rely on politicians to fund our programs with money that comes with so many restrictions. We need to tap our business people and artists and ask them to become Ambassadors of Peace. That’s why we took caskets to Jay-Z’s opening show at the Barclays Arena in September. We still need that help in the inner city, and we are still asking for a people’s movement to confront gun violence.”