Can Anything Quell America’s Thirst for Guns, Violence?
By Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
A spate of recent shootings across the country underscore the history of violence woven into the very fabric of America, but advocates and activists continue working for peace.
Jerad Miller and his wife, Amanda, allegedly ambushed and killed two police officers, who were having lunch in a pizza restaurant in Las Vegas, June 8. According to police, the couple left a swastika and a flag depicting the words “Don’t Tread On Me.” They also pinned a note with the words “The revolution is beginning,” on the dead officers’ bodies. According to initial media reports, the couple committed double suicide in a nearby Walmart. Police later said they killed Mr. Miller in a gun fight and the wife killed herself.
In Oregon, police reported a teenager killed a fellow student, wounded a teacher and then killed himself at Reynolds High School June 10. On May 23, Elliot Rodger killed six students in a campus rampage at the University of California at Santa Barbara and three people in his apartment.
In Chicago, a 17-year-old was killed and 11 others injured in citywide shootings over Fathers’ Day weekend; three were killed and 20 were wounded in shootings the previous weekend.
Political scientists and grassroots advocates say part of the problem is the overall notion that violence solves everything in America and there is an issue of profit over life.
“When I think about what’s going on with these shootings, I really think about a society that doesn’t take gun violence seriously, and at the very least they don’t value human life over profitability,” said noted author, activist and professor, Dr. Boyce Watkins.
There are just too many guns available in society, and as with the Vegas shooting, the last few have had a serious racial undertone to them, he said. The Millers said they were trying to start a racial war and they could be the spark for similar actions, he added.
“The greater concern I certainly have is sometimes these isolated events inspire and encourage other people to actually act on the aggression they might be feeling,” Dr. Watkins told The Final Call. America’s violence is steering her down a path of chaos, and things will get worse before they get better, he added.
“It’ll probably never get better because we love selling guns too much, and we’re too addicted to hating Black people, and we have a government that is effectively dysfunctional,” said Dr. Watkins.
Black Women for Positive Change, a national policy-focused network, believes America can overcome its violent culture and is working to help bring about peace.
At press time, the organization was scheduled to announce the “National Week of Non-Violence,” scheduled for August 16-23. Organizers labeled the event a citizen’s response to ongoing tragedies of school shootings, street and domestic violence and random violent acts by domestic terrorists.
“We’re very concerned that we have to move beyond the violence that our nation was born into,” said Dr. Stephanie Meyers, national co-chair. From the genocide of Native Americans to the enslavement of African people, violence is in the country’s foundation, she said.
But now it’s time for Americans and people everywhere to find new ways to relate to each other, and manage conflicts and disagreements, without resorting to violence, Dr. Meyers continued.
The impact of violence on Blacks has been enormous, particularly from so-called gang fights over turf. It’s caused massive loss of life, but also unacceptable shifts for many families, she said.
Dr. Meyers pointed out the September 2013 shooting rampage by Aaron Alexis, who despite saying he’d been hearing voices and was treated for insomnia, killed 12 people on a Navy shipyard in Washington, D.C. as an example of how the growing mental health crisis in the Black community and lack of treatment and care exacerbates the issue of violence.
Tackling the gun supply is one solution, she said. “In Chicago young men are obtaining weapons from illegal and underground suppliers and these weapons are being used for them to kill each other,” said Dr. Meyers.
The underlying reason for such fratracide is lack of jobs and opportunity for youth.
“If they had opportunities for jobs and for schools, we would certainly not see that same experience,” she added.
The quality and type of education youth receive is the key to community empowerment and violence prevention, said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam during a crime and education forum at Olive-Harvey College in Chicago.
“The problem starts with education and the problem will end with the proper education,” said Min. Farrakhan at the March 28 event where he was a guest speaker. “It is not enough to have an education, but we must have the right education, the proper education that allows the one who is educated to use his gifts, skills and talents to solve the problems of his or her time,” he told attendees.
Kofi Taharka, chairman of the National Black United Front, said while society talks about peace, it doesn’t put forth alternatives in modern culture or reality.
According to the activist, there’s a push to put 1,500 more police on the streets of Houston and 20,000 crimes went uninvestigated.
“We’re saying we have to have a 180 degree shift in how we’re thinking about crime, violence and what impacts it. Let’s get to the root cause of it,” said Mr. Taharka.
Sociologists point out economics and education are primary factors that contribute to violence and crime, so the answer isn’t more police. They argue the answers lie in shifting resources to projects and programs run by grassroots organizations that have been effective, like Houston-based Project Forward and the Nation of Islam, he argued.
Project Forward, founded by Deric Muhammad, is an initiative that focuses on empowering the Black community with principles of brotherhood, family, youth mentorship, respect for life, recycling the Black dollar with Black businesses, proper education, solution-oriented activism and fighting for justice. On Fathers’ Day, Project Fatherhood hosted a “Day of Encouragement for Black Fathers” at MacGregor Park.
“In every city there are people who are doing good, direct work that have proven track records (like) the Nation of Islam. If you want to decrease crime, why don’t you give the F.O.I. a contract? They could decrease crime, but they don’t really want to decrease crime or violence,” said Mr. Taharka.
Mr. Taharka said the system of violence and the country’s response stems from a system organized and designed based on global White supremacy. “When we fall into negative internal behavior, we’re feeding that system,” he added.
To solve the problem, change the language, said Dennis Muhammad, a long-time student F.O.I captain in the Nation of Islam and founder of ENOTA (Educating Neighborhoods to Obey Those in Authority) Project, Inc.. ENOTA works to improve relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. It also works to empower men to protect their own communities through the Peacekeepers Program.
“It’s different when you begin to use language in a way that builds instead of adding to the negativity of the very word,” he said. “When we start using language that is positive, then we can achieve that peace but we can’t stop violence. Peace is achievable, obtainable and sustainable,” added Dennis Muhammad.
Attorney Opio Sokoni of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Jacksonville said the various layers of violence spans from school yards to jailhouses. “It’s rooted in a culture that says ‘we love violence,’ and it is spread in music and entertainment with no end in sight,” he told The Final Call. Total change on all levels is needed, said Atty. Sokoni.
“It has to be a … change in a culture for a culture to be able to go from being violent, bloodthirsty to more peaceful, more serene, and thinking about alternatives on how to deal with issues,” he added.