BY JESSE JACKSON
July 17, 2016
As the Republican Party holds its national convention in Cleveland,
Americans have been shaken by the shootings of police in Dallas and
Baton Rouge, La., following the police shootings of black men in Baton
Rouge and Falcon Heights, Minn. I spoke at the funeral of Alton Sterling
in Baton Rouge, weeping with his family and friends, as they remembered
and mourned their loved one. I spoke later at the National Organization
of Black Law Enforcement Executives, leaders of the police in different
communities, and witnessed their tears as they mourned the deaths of
their fellow police officers in Baton Rouge.
There is a national call for mourning, for a conversation, for peace.
But we need more than a conversation, more than weeping for our lost
loved ones. We need common sense and action.
The police now are stupefied. They face people armed with weapons of
war — assault rifles designed for battlefields, not for American street
corners. There is no defense against snipers armed with such weapons.
These weapons can take down planes. They can slaughter crowds. They can
pick off police. Incredibly, people have the right to carry these
weapons of mass destruction openly in various states.
No police chief in America supports easy access to military style
weapons. They want these weapons banned. The ban used to have bipartisan
support. Now the gun lobby has turned it into partisan gridlock. Those
who bluster loudly that they are champions of law and order and of the
police vote at the same time to allow their enemies to be armed to the
teeth. But the police are crying out even as they are being buried:
Protect us from these weapons.
Some on the right denounce Black Lives Matter, blaming the protesters
for fanning antagonism toward the police that triggers the attacks on
them. This doesn’t make sense.
Black Lives Matter’s nonviolent demonstrations began after numerous
videos revealed blacks being shot at point blank range by police.
Following some of these incidents, police witnesses filed false reports,
covering up what happened. Police killings without accountability
sparked nonviolent demonstrations across the country.
The discipline of the demonstrators has been impressive. In fact, the
demonstrations deter violent attacks by offering a nonviolent outlet for
pain and outrage. They have not created the tensions between the police
and the community. It is the shootings and mistreatment of
African-Americans that have caused the tension. The videos do not cause
the tensions. They simply ensure that those outside the black community
now see with their own eyes what African-Americans have known for a long
The killers of the police in Dallas and in Baton Rouge did not come
out of the civil rights movement. They came out of the military, where
they were trained to shoot, to make bombs, to ambush, to kill. They were
veterans of war, not of the nonviolent movement for justice for all.
They returned from risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to
communities plagued by real economic fears and racial anxieties.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, yet mental health assistance is
too limited and weapons of war too readily available. The mix is toxic
and sometimes lethal.
Cleveland, where the Republican National Convention is now taking
place, is in a state with open carry laws. Demonstrators for and against
Donald Trump have the right to carry their military weapons openly into
demonstrations outside the convention hall. This is an utter distortion
of the Second Amendment. The Founding Fathers wanted to make certain
that the states could maintain independent militias. They never
envisioned Americans carrying assault rifles to a political
Law and order bluster won’t solve this challenge. Level-headed
conversations between police and community are long overdue, but they
won’t solve it either. We need action: background checks to keep the
mentally unbalanced and those on the terrorist list from buying guns; a
ban on the sale of assault weapons; and a real plan for economic
development of our urban and rural communities in need.
Doing nothing means things will get worse. Police are on edge for good
reason. Civilians are on edge about the police for good reason. Military
assault weapons flood our communities. The violence diverts attention
and action on real needs — on jobs and housing, schools and health
care. Enough bluster. It is time for common sense … and action.