Op/Ed By Jesse Jackson
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – As the Republican Party held its national convention in Cleveland, Americans were 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 time.
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 recently took place, is in a state with open carry laws. Demonstrators for and against Donald Trump had 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 demonstration.
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.