Archives For Gun Violence

Becoming Visible

July 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

This op-ed was originally posted @ Huffington Post.

Ralph Ellison Invisible Man

For the first time on record, black Americans headed to the voting booth in 2012 at higher rates than white Americans; yet, even as we flocked to the polls, proving that showing up can make a difference on Election Day, Ralph Ellison’s words ring as true to me today as they did when I first read them in Invisible Man as a 14-year-old boy:

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.

Ralph Ellison wrote those words in 1952, describing the cloak of invisibility that enveloped the black experience, and more specifically our humanity, in America. Here we are in 2013 with a black president, and yet the cloak of invisibility remains.

My politically conservative friends seem blind to the social structures that maintain the cloak of invisibility enabling black suffering, and my progressive friends seem to lack the courage and imagination to place black suffering centrally as a priority in their fights to end gun violence, to achieve gender equality or to reform our broken immigration system. Meanwhile, many of our own churches seem all too preoccupied with so-called culture war fights or hyper-spiritual practices of faith to even notice the massive disinvestment of economic opportunities and stability in our cities and communities.

I can’t tell you how many people have told me that the gun policy conversations or fiscal cliff discussions shouldn’t acknowledge the disproportionate impact that guns, violence, poverty and a whole host of issues have on the black community because by doing so, we might alienate the votes we need to pass laws. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told we need to make sure that the voice and face of any policy campaign — whether that person is a clergy leader or a victim — shouldn’t be too black because then he or she might not appeal to the audience with whom we need to engage to achieve success.

The fact of the matter is that even though black people only make up 13 percent of the population, 49 percent of all murders committed — overwhelmingly committed with a gun — are murders of black people, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow stunningly reveals that at this moment in United States history, more blacks are under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved a decade before the Civil War began, in spite of the truth that blacks are no more likely to sell or possess drugs or commit crime than any other American citizen.

In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, Juan Williams notes that the number one cause of death for African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34 is being murdered with a gun. Since 1979, when we started collecting national data on the ages of gun violence victims, 44,038 black children have been killed by guns, Williams explains. According to theChildren’s Defense Fund, that’s nearly 13 times more than the total number of black people lynched in the 86 years between 1882 and 1968.

President Obama noted in a January speech in Chicago that in 2012 alone, enough children and youth were lost to gun violence with such volume that it would equal a Newtown tragedy every several months.

And yet, in spite of such visible death and destruction, our politics and many policy conversations are happening as if black invisibility need be maintained in order to achieve the common good, or to get the votes we need, or to reach the audiences to whom we must appeal for success. When shootings or deaths happen in our communities, like the most recent Mother’s Day shooting in New Orleans, they are written off as a sad display of black people’s failure to get it right, categorized as street violence, seemingly suggesting that it is the problem solely of local communities, families and individuals to solve.

Is what happens in black communities so inconsequential to the national conversation? Is the black experience of life in America so meaningless to those who live in other places that it does not engender compassion and a response? Are our lives that invaluable? Are they really worth less that white ones? Is the calculus that in order to appeal to the comfort of the dominant culture, we must maintain the status quo of invisibility? Must we hide our young men’s and women’s fights to stay alive and struggles to remain free to achieve the so-called “common good?”

As we enter the next phase of our national policy discussion around guns and public safety, we need the courage to name and embrace the complexities of issues of suffering in this country and to remove this cloak of invisibility. Personal responsibility, social responsibility, cultural responsibility and national responsibility must not be pitted against each other as an “either/or,” but rather discussed as a “both/and.” In the great words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Few are guilty; all our responsible.”

We must allow our black communities — black men and boys, in particular — to become as visible as they were on November 6, 2012, in order to truly build lifelines to healing and to solve the major problems facing our country today.

 

Standing in a field of more than 3,000 grave makers on the National Mall, Newtown clergy, the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, the Rev. Michael McBride of PICO National Network and others will begin a 24-hour vigil in the shadow of Capitol Hill at 11:00 a.m. EDT on Thursday, April 11. The clergy will call on Congress to vote on the gun violence prevention legislation expected soon on the floor of the Senate.

“More than 3,300 people have died as a result of gun violence since the tragedy in Newtown, and it’s past time for our leaders to act,” said the Rev. Michael McBride, director of PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing campaign. “We have stepped down from our pulpits and left our houses of worship to remind Congress we’re not going anywhere, until they pass meaningful legislation that bans assault weapons and high capacity magazines, institutes enforceable universal background checks, ends gun trafficking, prosecutes straw purchasers, and invests in proven strategies reduce the gun violence that plagues our cities every day.”

The vigil, sponsored by the PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing campaign and Sojourners, comes ahead of expected Senate votes on the assault weapons ban, universal background checks, prosecution of straw purchasers and school safety legislation. Volunteers will begin setting up the vigil at 6:00 a.m. EDT on April 11. The staging and the vigil are both open to media and coverage is welcome. Video, photo and interview opportunities will be available.

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What a week!  After spending the past 5 days in Houston and Dallas, I can certainly say I am glad to be home!  But what a blessed trip it was.  I was able to spend Sunday morning in the presence of many professional athletes from the NBA and NFL, sharing the important role we have as black men to leverage our collective influence to improve the realities for the next generation of young men and boys that will follow us. It was a powerful gathering of highly successful thought leaders, philanthropists, celebrities and business leaders.  Representing the voice of faith and activism, Rev. Jeffrey Brown and myself laid out a convincing argument of how we can collectively reduce gun violence through policies and programs.  Rev. Brown, formerly of the Boston Ten Point Coalition, and the current Executive Director of the newly formed, RECAP (Rebuilding Every City Around Peace) urged for everyone in the room to push for targeted investments from the federal government and business community in cities and neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence. I reiterated, among other things, that “universal strategies do not create targeted results or outcomes.”  It is important to appreciate that we all need to focus where the pain is, and make a commitment to address it with resources, attention, strategies and messaging.  The room was very open to following up with next steps.  Check out some of the pictures and coverage from the event. (NBA Stars Chris Paul & Carmelo Anthony Host “Catalyst Brunch” During All Star Weekend
http://www.blackgivesback.com/2013/02/nba-stars-chris-paul-and-carmelo.html)

NBA All Stars Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul with ESPN analyst Chris Broussard and Open Society Foundations' Shawn Dove at the Catalyst Brunch held during the 2013 NBA All Star Weekend in Houston, Texas.

NBA All Stars Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul with ESPN analyst Chris Broussard and Open Society Foundations’ Shawn Dove at the Catalyst Brunch held during the 2013 NBA All Star Weekend in Houston, Texas.

I left Houston and headed to Dallas to continue our Texas tour carrying the message of Lifelines to Healing.  The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference is an international gathering of Clergy and Faith Leaders who take seriously the call to Follow God and Execute Justice. With over 1,000 attendees present, I was blessed to provide training for dozens of pastors who were interested in addressing Gun Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex.  There was a great commitment by many to be involved in our next Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath events on March 9-10 & March 16-17.  We also participated in a small focus group of top leaders to discuss how we plan to utitlize this very important window of opportunity in the national conversation about gun violence, to continue to elevate and accentuate the importance of the urban experience related to chronic violence, poverty, and trauma.

Other highlights included hanging out with my brother, Pastor TJ McBride of Tabernacle of Praise (www.topchurchlive.org) from the Atlanta area, who was attending with a delegation of seminary students from the Interdenominational Theological Consortium (ITC).  It was also great to hang out with Romal Tune from Faith For Change, Rev. Everette Bell of LA Voice and a host of other PICO Staff and Clergy attending.

Let’s not be weary in our good work. The momentum building for ending gun violence in America is growing every day. Let’s commit to being a part of the solution, and NOT the problem.  God is with us.  And victory is ahead.

Pastor Michael McBride, Executive Director of the Admiral Center Sherrie Deans and Chris Paul

Pastor Michael McBride, Executive Director of the Admiral Center Sherrie Deans and Chris Paul

 

Rev. Jeffrey Brown, Chris Paul, Rev. Michael McBride

Rev. Jeffrey Brown, Chris Paul, Rev. Michael McBride

More than 30,000 people are killed by firearms each year in this country…

Click for more information on Lifelines To Healing, a campaign of the PICO National Network.