Violence is as American as apple pie, and as we wake up every morning fearful to learn about another mass shooting, or the latest hashtagged black man gunned down by trigger-happy police, what’s become abundantly clear is that gun reform in America is long overdue.
To that end, on Aug. 22, presidential candidate Cory Booker visited the Los Angeles-based cultural hub and incubator Vector90 to participate in a “much-needed and important conversation around gun violence in the Black community.” In this panel, attended by The Root and select members of the press, other participants included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, actor and activist Stephen C. Bishop, and Black Lives Matter representative Paula Minor.
With gun violence poised to be such a significant concern in the upcoming Democratic presidential primaries, Booker introduced a comprehensive, 14-point point gun violence prevention plan—the most extensive plan presented by any presidential candidate—in May. It would entail FBI background checks, eliminate loopholes exploited by private firearm merchants, establish a gun licensing program and push for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in order to curtail gun violence throughout the country.
If elected, Booker intends to put his proposal in motion on his first day in office via executive order.
“My plan to address gun violence is simple—we will make it harder for people who should not have a gun to get one,” Booker said in a statement this summer. “I am sick and tired of hearing thoughts and prayers for the communities that have been shattered by gun violence—it is time for bold action.”
And in speaking with the panel on Thursday, Booker kept that same energy.
“I feel a dedication and a love to communities in this country who are too often left out of the equation,” he said. “Overlooked, looked down upon, disrespected, disregarded....Until this nation is real everywhere it’s not real anywhere.”
He also vowed to “awaken this sense of urgency” in order to “protect our citizenry” and noted that cities throughout the country must be more proactive in order to curb gun violence.
“The path to violence often looks like a public health problem,” the New Jersey senator said. “Cities like Newark, Los Angeles, and Oakland are doing things to not only get guns off the streets but also to invest in the communities that are impacted by the violence and by doing the things we know will prevent violence.”
This includes fostering relationships between community leaders and citizens by developing programs and initiatives to both establish and strengthen their rapport, in addition to providing citizens with productive outlets and deploying nontraditional campaigns such as End Gun Violence or Garcetti’s own Louder Than Guns.
“Where I sit, the effect is from a cause and the cause is lack of resources and lack of education,” Bishop said. “When we go into our communities and we look at the schools and we see that our programs, music, arts, sports are being taken away, we’re not giving our kids anything to do. We’re not giving them other interests. We’re not giving them other skills.”
Bishop noted that in doing so, it sows the seeds of academic disinterest that eventually blossoms into desperation when these same individuals become underqualified or deemed undesirable by employers.
But in all, Booker recognizes that there is a multitude of factors in play, but stressed the importance of not becoming desensitized to our constant exposure to gun violence. Instead, he challenged each of us to remain vigilant for the fight that lies ahead.
“We’re seeing a capitulation to fear. It should be so unacceptable to Americans that we’re about to send children back to school, and in the strongest nation on planet Earth, and we’re telling them that we can’t protect you, so we’re going to teach you in school how to hide or how to shelter in place [during a school shooting],” Booker said. “That’s what this has got to be about. Awakening a movement in this country for us to protect ourselves and reclaim American freedom. Freedom from fear, freedom from violence, freedom from this trauma that hits millions of Americans in this country, and not just those who lose their lives, but the families, communities and the lives that are shattered by gun violence every single day.”
You can watch the panel in its entirety below.