By The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson
In Highland Park, an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago, the parade to celebrate the Fourth of July turned into a mass shooting, as Robert E. Crimo III, 21, emptied three full 30-round magazines into the crowd – killing seven and wounding more than 47 others. A dozen other mass shootings took place elsewhere over the holiday weekend, part of the more than 300 mass shootings that have occurred in America this year alone, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
This isn’t an anomaly. Mass shootings are becoming as American as apple pie. The U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but 40% of the weapons in private hands, a total of nearly 400 million according to the 2018 Small Arms Survey. These include nearly 20 million assault weapons, which are legal to buy in 43 states. Highland Park, Uvalde, Tulsa – every community in every state is at risk.
We don’t have to live with this clear and present terror and with this deadly reality. As Cardinal Blasé Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, said in his homily: “We should not make this so difficult. The right to bear arms does not infringe the right to life, or the right of all Americans to go about their lives free of the fear that they might be shredded by bullets from weapons at war at any moment.”
Yet this is what we have come to. As the archbishop stated: “Instead of fireworks, rapid gunfire filled the air. Instead of a celebration of freedom and liberty, people were victimized by our nation’s enslavement to guns. Instead of a day to celebrate peace and freedom, a weapon of war and terror ruled the day.”
Yet the slaughter comes on the heels of a decision of the six right-wing justices on the Supreme Court overturning a century old New York state law regulating the carrying of guns in public. In comes on the heels of Republicans in the Senate killing serious gun reforms with a filibuster, with only a few even willing to sign onto the diluted, bipartisan bill that basically punts, giving the states “incentives” to do better.
Most Americans understand and support the need for reasonable gun control. But the gun lobby has deep pockets and is willing to target any conservative legislator who strays. The resulting cowardice produces gridlock in the Senate — and more than one mass killing a day across America.
At the same time, Jayland Walker, a 25-year black man, made the mistake of driving while black in Akron, Ohio. When police tried to stop him for, they claimed, a traffic violation, he took off. After a wild chase, he abandoned his car and fled. At least eight officers gave chase.
Police reported that they found an empty handgun on the front seat of the car Walker abandoned. There are conflicting reports about whether Walker fired at the police – which would have been hard with an empty gun. Walker – who had no criminal record — was hunted down and shot 60 times, then turned over to the coroner with his hands handcuffed behind his back.
Police violence – like mass shootings – occurs every day in America. Young Black and brown men are disproportionately targets. In 2020, a series of police murders led to the largest inter-racial protest marches in our nation’s history in cities across the country. Most Americans want police to keep the streets safe, but also want to be secure against the police themselves. Here too, sensible reforms are proposed and stymied. At a local level, the police unions are powerful enemies of reform. At a national level, right-wing politicians pander to the “thin blue line,” unless it represents the police protecting the nation’s Capital who came under attack on Jan. 6.
Two things are very clear. If nothing changes, the mass shootings will continue – probably getting more numerous with more victims as the number of assault rifles in private hands rises and sensible gun regulation is blocked. If nothing changes, police violence –disproportionately targeting young Black and brown men –will continue to take lives and destroy trust.
At this point only one thing can bring change. The vast majority that wants sensible gun control and sensible police reform has to act. Politicians who stand in the way must be exposed and removed. Mayors and city council members who fear the political power of the police must feel the political power of the people. We can, I suppose, go on without doing anything real, living with the terror about us, but why in the world would we want to?
The Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, is one of America’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures.