Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Reducing Gun Violence and Reforming Our Criminal Justice System Simultaneously

Oct 05, 2015

On the premiere of my Politics Nation' broadcast at its new time (Sundays, 8 a.m. ET on MSNBC) I sat down with Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who touched on a host of issues -- including criminal justice reform. As she so eloquently highlighted, police are sworn to protect certain communities, but they don't always listen to those communities or work with them. She went on to say that communities also have to respect police, but the initiative has to come from changing the way police are trained and how they work. I couldn't agree more.

As the nation continues to grapple with ongoing tragedies from gang violence to school shootings, we understand that we must unite and deal with this epidemic that plagues our society across the board. But as nonviolent prisoners sit in overcrowded jail cells, and many from communities of color are still unfairly targeted and profiled, we also know that we must reform the way in which police protect and serve us all. In short, we must collectively find a balance between dealing with gun violence and not criminalizing entire groups of people.

According to a report by the Small Arms Survey, Americans own around 270 million guns -- almost one gun for each of us. That is an astounding and alarming figure. The U.S. also has nearly six times the number of gun homicides as our neighbor Canada, according to UN data compiled by The Guardian. On the flip side, we account for only about five percent of the world's population, and yet 25 percent of all the people in prison are locked up right here in our nation. Something is clearly not right.

I can cite facts and figures all day long depicting the disparity in which different communities are policed, who gets stopped, who gets frisked, who gets arrested, who can afford an attorney and what actual crime rates are broken down by various categories including race and ethnicity. Bottom line is, our criminal justice system is unbalanced, broken and in need of immediate repair.

Senseless gun violence is continually plaguing communities of color disproportionately, so we have a vested interest in crime prevention and arresting actual criminals. But as the victims of unfair profiling and harassment, we also want to see reforms in the way in which policing is conducted so that we are in fact going after the right people and not dehumanizing entire segments of the population.

This year alone, around 2,300 people have been shot in the city of Chicago -- 2,300. If those were American troops, we could conceivably call the windy city a war zone. In 2013, I rented an apartment on the West Side of Chicago and stayed there with Martin Luther King III as we worked with other community activists to tackle this severe problem.

As a country, we cannot continue to turn a blind eye towards gun violence taking the lives of so many innocents, especially our young people. And as communities of color, we want laws and policing practices that deal with this crisis because we are directly impacted when the criminals come back into our neighborhoods and create havoc for innocent people. What we do not want, however, is blanketed targeting of those neighborhoods that only leads to improper policing, biased stops and frisks, tragic encounters, innocent people ending up in jail and a growing mistrust between these communities and those who are hired to protect them.

While gun violence may routinely impact urban areas for various reasons, including economic ones, it is not confined to those areas as we just witnessed last week. Following the tragic shooting at Umpqua Community College, the nation was once again left asking the question of how we are going to establish gun safety and close loopholes in the system. According to reports, investigators found at least 14 firearms connected to the alleged killer in that horrific shooting rampage. Something must be done without delay.

If you think gun violence and our gun epidemic doesn't impact you, think again. All of us are in this together, and we must seek solutions together if we want our children and future generations to grow up safely, and be able to chase after their dreams without fears of bullets flying at them.

One of the biggest challenges ahead of us is finding that intricate balance between reforming our system and preventing violence and reducing crime. It is no small task to say the least. But then again, nothing worthwhile ever is.