As A Gun Violence Survivor, I Believe We Need Structural Reforms To Achieve True Progress And Change
During my rehabilitation, I had a lot of time to think about loved ones, purpose and how I was going to turn my experience of trauma and tragedy into advocacy.
June 23, 2020 at 6:15 pm
In 2013, I nearly died after being shot in Washington, D.C. A bullet struck two critical arteries that left me fighting for my life on the street. I lost so much blood that the doctor who treated me later explained that without proper care, my life could have ended in 20 minutes.
As a Black man in America, gun violence was something I had seen far too often. Despite spending most of my childhood in rural Virginia, I lost a childhood friend and was nearly shot on four occasions as an innocent bystander, but I never thought I would become a victim. The day I was shot, I was walking home after celebrating my cousin’s engagement and within moments, a beautiful night turned into a nightmare. The aftermath of the shooting was not any easier — I went through six surgeries, was confined to my bed for six months and still have to treat my wound with medication daily seven years later.
During my rehabilitation, I had a lot of time to think about loved ones, purpose and how I was going to turn my experience of trauma and tragedy into advocacy. This reflection led me to accept a powerful statement that still guides my work today: I am a gun violence survivor and my story has the power to change things.
I was also motivated to become an advocate knowing this issue disproportionately impacts the Black community at alarming rates. On average, over 100,000 Americans are shot and injured as a result of gun violence each year. Over 36,000 Americans are killed each year as a result of gun violence — an average of 100 deaths per day, the majority of which are Black. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide and 14 times more likely than white Americans to be injured by a gun assault.
In recent weeks, I’ve read headlines everyday about things that “disproportionately impact the Black community,” but for me it goes beyond headlines and stats. This is real life. When we discovered that Black people are at greater risk of getting sick and dying in the pandemic, I was mourning the loss of my childhood pastor from the virus. When the news broke of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, I remembered vividly the multiple times police have held me at gun point because I “fit the description” and the severe need to enforce laws justly in America. As a survivor of gun violence, witnessing online police officers wrongfully shooting someone in the back evokes the same dark memories of when I was shot in 2013. That’s why when we talk about gun violence in this country, we must also talk about police violence. Police violence against Black Americans is also reflected in the data — unarmed Black civilians are five times more likely to be shot and killed by police than unarmed white civilians.
We’ve also seen the erosion of our democracy as a trend that negatively and disproportionately affects the Black community. From long voting lines in Georgia, to the closing of all but five polling places in Milwaukee, we’ve seen the votes of Black people systematically and explicitly suppressed. It’s also happening right in my backyard. As a resident of Washington, D.C., I do not have representation in Congress to fight for me — there’s no D.C. senator advocating for safer gun laws.
I’ve learned as a gun violence prevention advocate that the only way to make meaningful change is through big, structural changes to our democracy. The residents of D.C. want policy and resources to make our communities safer — our city council has made great strides — but because we don’t have a federal vote, our voice gets drowned out.
Citizens of our nation’s capital have had their public safety repeatedly held hostage by Congress and even as gun homicides rise in Washington, D.C., leaders in Congress refuse to act. While D.C. has enacted relatively strong gun laws, illegal guns are trafficked into some of the most at risk neighborhoods in D.C. from neighboring states with poor gun laws. In 2018, ATF traced 1,454 crime guns in D.C. 599 of them came from Virginia; 110 from Georgia; and 104 from North Carolina. These numbers make it clear that current federal law insufficiently addresses gun trafficking. If D.C. were a state, we could have two senators fighting to protect us from other state’s bad laws.
But the Senate filibuster is standing in the way of D.C. statehood because, as we’ve seen throughout history, a few senators who don’t represent the majority of the country will invoke an arcane Senate rule to hold up civil rights legislation. We can’t let that happen again.
The filibuster is also standing in the way of meaningful gun violence prevention reforms. Mitch McConnell and the NRA use this procedural tool to prevent progress on life saving legislation. Universal background checks and community based violence intervention programs are both very effective ways to reduce gun violence. Polling shows that these measures are supremely popular across the political spectrum. The U.S. House passed a background check bill last year, but Mitch McConell is stopping it from moving through the Senate. This is an issue for our democracy because when our lawmakers fail to listen to the people, they produce outcomes that harm the very communities they swore to serve.
Ending gun violence can only be achieved through democracy reform. We must eliminate the filibuster and make Washington, D.C., a state. Without foundational changes to the way our democracy works, we will not achieve the changes we're working so hard to make a reality on gun violence and many other issues. My work reflects my continued passion to fight for a society that uses the fundamental pillars of democracy to prioritize and protect its citizens. Pursuing structural reforms to our democracy won’t happen in a vacuum — it’s going to require organizing at the state, local and federal levels to enact reforms that are long overdue.
It’s not going to be easy, but with hard work and dedication from our allies in the movement, we will prevail and save lives.
COVID19 x Gun Violence are compounding the # of lives that are being lost in communities of color right now. #EndGunViolence #EndPoliceViolence #BlackLivesMatter #WearOrange @CJACTIONFUND pic.twitter.com/7GUdt7SnwU— Gregory Jackson Jr. (@gregoryjackson) June 5, 2020
Greg Jackson is a gun violence prevention advocate and the National Advocacy Director at the Community Justice Action Fund.