Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Gun Control: Ditto Cops and Robbers

Jan 11, 2016

As we await President Obama's final State of the Union address, where he is expected to once again touch on the importance of reducing gun violence, a few things come to mind. The push for universal police reform continues as more and more cases emerge of excessive force, police misconduct and unjustified killings. At the same time, an armed militia group has taken over a federal building in Oregon and is now into the second week of seizing the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. What's even more striking is that there are legislators trying to change laws to give in to their demands and give ranchers what they want. In essence, gun-toting people operating with impunity have been able to threaten government officials, meanwhile a grand jury says an officer who shot a 12-year-old kid playing with a toy gun seconds after getting out of his police vehicle should not be indicted. I think it's past time we deal with both gun regulation and police reform immediately because we are under siege.

According to the Brady Campaign, every day, 48 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings and police intervention. That is a horrific and astounding number. For a developed, leading nation like the United States to lose so many of our youth on a daily basis is despicable, outrageous and inexcusable. If we care at all about future generations, we must listen to the president's call for sensible gun legislation, while at the same time push for national police reform. We cannot address one while ignoring the other. Too many Americans, particularly African-Americans, feel under attack by both the cops and robbers. And we are simply tired of laying our babies to rest because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, or because someone perceived them as a 'threat' and opened fire. Enough is enough.

Tighter background checks, banning the sale of high-capacity magazines and assault rifles, increasing access to mental health services and more substantive policies must be implemented so that we can begin to reduce the number of deaths from gun violence. While no one measure will resolve the problem overnight, we must start somewhere and we must push back against those that profit from the death of innocents. Simultaneously, all of us must unite around ideas like the president's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which provides tools to build and maintain trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. According to the White House, this includes a body-worn camera tool kit, partnerships with national law enforcement focused organizations to implement recommendations, a data initiative, community policing grants and more.

Body cameras are currently being utilized in some localities and by some police forces, but not across the board. In places like New York City, we were able to reform discriminatory policing practices like stop-and-frisk, but we have to implement these changes from coast-to-coast. Like all other successful progressive movement in this great country, true change only came about when reforms were put in place on a national level. We need laws on the books that will hold bad police officers accountable, provide for independent investigations of police-involved shootings, bring in an outside unbiased prosecutor and create a level of mutual trust and understanding between citizens and police. All of us want to get the bad guys, but nobody wants to feel stigmatized, harassed, profiled or abused by those in authority. Everyone must work together.

If we want to live in a fair and just society, then we cannot ignore blatant inequality and injustice. It is simply remarkable that the armed group of men and women in Oregon have been able to hold live press conferences and have stated that they are willing to die, and yet no one has even attempted to stop their seizure of a federal building. There was no national guard brought in, nobody was tear-gassed and nobody beaten or shot at by police. This, compared with the response to peaceful demonstrations by unarmed people of color, and the continued cases of police shootings of unarmed Blacks across the country, is why so many are simply tired of the hypocrisy.

There is no more hiding the truth; we see things for what they are, and we demand reform from tighter gun control to national police reform. We refuse to live under siege from anyone.