Between 2000 and 2014, gun violence accounted for 470,000 fatalities nationwide with homicide by a firearm ranking second during that period among all violent-related deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also attributed homicide as the leading cause of death among Blacks ages 10 – 24 in 2012.
Lawyers, scholars and those who lost loved ones due to gun violence shared their concerns during a Congressional briefing and a town hall, both on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at the National Press Club in Northwest and the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Northeast, respectively.
“What do people of Congress need to do? It’s sad that moving Congress to action now seems too big,” said Michele Bratcher Goodwin, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine and director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy School of Law. “I need accountability for what we have. How can we be here in D.C. and not hold [Congress] accountable?”
The Initiative for Studying Gun Violence and Trauma, a national task force to spread awareness about gun violence spearheaded by the university, led both discussions to present solutions, ideas and recommendations on what some say has harmed the Black community. And the hot topics, without question, remain gun violence, police training and trauma.
Jack A. Cole, a retired New Jersey state policer for 26 years, voiced criticism over the policy of the federal government providing additional money to police departments based on the number of drug arrests made.
“Police from the time they enter the academy are trained to fear Blacks,” he said.
Cole said fear caused a Minnesota police officer to shoot and kill 32-year-old Philando Castile.
Longtime TV court show host Glenda Hatchett, who’s representing the family of Castile, praised Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who recorded the July shooting from her cell phone and posted it on social media. Castile had a licensed gun in his vehicle when stopped by the police.
“I believe that video saved her life,” said Hatchett, who runs a national law firm in Atlanta. “If we hadn’t had that video, it may have been one more Black man on the side of the road and a witness who police may have said they had to shoot her too because she reached for the gun.”
Families of those killed by gun violence try to move on, like Nardyne Jeffries of Southeast. Her 16-year-old daughter, Brishell Jones, lost her life on March 30, 2010, on South Capitol Street while attending the funeral of a friend killed over a bracelet.
“I didn’t have friends gunned down growing up – Brishell did,” she said. “There need to be more mental health providers in the public schools. It allows the teachers to be trained so they can recognize issues that are children are facing.”
War on Drugs Cause of Today’s Police Brutality?
Gun control advocates and law enforcement professionals agree that the policing and gun violence problem in America exist because of the so-called “War on Drugs.”
Jack Cole, besides being a retired New Jersey state police office, also serves as the co-founder of Law Enforcement against Prohibition. He says the criminalization of African Americans occurred as part of a government-led operation.
“People ask how did we get here and the answer is the so-called war on drugs,” Cole said. “You ask why, and the answer is told by Richard Nixon’s Chief Domestic Policy Advisor John Ehrlichman.”
Ehrlichman who died in 1999, said in a 1994 interview that the war on drugs was born out of wanting to destroy anti-Vietnam War protestors and Black people.
“The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the anti-war left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying,” Ehrlichman said to journalist Dan Baum.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” he said.
“We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did,” he said.
In 1975, Ehrlichman, among others in the Nixon administration, found himself on the wrong side of the law – convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury due to the Watergate scandal. He served 18 months in prison.
Cole contends that the “rhetoric” behind the war on drugs created the conditions of bad policing seen today.
“When you train police officers to go to war with communities, that’s dangerous,” he said. “Then you have police officers who believe they had to put drug dealers and users in jail by any means and that’s where corruption came in.”
Other panelists such as Judge Glenda Hatchett, Attorney Robert Bennett and Dr. George Woods agreed that gun violence and police brutality can trace their roots to early American racism.
“Slavery ended in 1865,” Cole said. “Ten years later Jim Crow was enacted in the south. About a hundred years later the Civil Rights Act passes and three years later Nixon starts the War on Drugs.”
“If you can label someone as a criminal, you can do anything you want to them.”