Editor’s Note: Pastor Carl Day runs Culture Changing Christians Worship Center in Philadelphia. He is a violence prevention activist and community organizer. Van Jones is a CNN political contributor and founder of Dream Corps. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.
National media outlets were all talking about Philadelphia after gunmen opened fire this weekend in a bustling area on South Street, leaving two people and a suspect dead and wounding 11 others. Understandably, most of the press coverage framed the tragedy as part of a larger story about mass shootings in the United States.
We mourn and decry this senseless violence. The carnage needs to end.
But here’s another sad truth: Philadelphia sees shocking gun tragedies almost every weekend and most weekdays. According to an Axios analysis of data from the Philadelphia Police Department, 2021 was the worst year on record for homicides, and 2022 is already shaping up to be another bad year.
It’s time for the nation’s media and political leaders to pay close and consistent attention to the daily reality behind those stories, too. We must not limit the conversation about gun violence to mass shootings and AR-15s.
For example, on May 30 in Philadelphia, a father and his 9-year-old son were shot and killed driving home from a Memorial Day weekend cookout.
On June 1, a 19-year-old man was shot at least three times in Center City, a part of Philadelphia where working people often go for happy hour.
On Saturday, a 19-year-old woman who was about 34 weeks pregnant was shot. Doctors managed to save the baby boy, but his mother died.
All this violence occurred over a single week in a single American city — not to mention that Temple University is increasing security after more than 70 rounds of gunfire were fired steps away from its campus in Philadelphia. At least five people have been shot in the Temple area within the past month, according to police.
Living in a war zone every day
Too many parts of Philadelphia and other cities feel like war zones. No place seems safe. People are being murdered in social spaces. People are getting shot near college campuses. Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters are being killed.
People live in daily dread when they leave their houses to walk or drive in their neighborhoods.
The cultural narrative around gun violence in the inner city is that it’s usually gang-related. But the truth is, gun violence is an epidemic that extends far beyond such assumptions. For people living through this daily carnage, it feels as if the news focus on mass shootings has overshadowed their plight.
One of us, Pastor Carl Day, frequents the homes of parents who have lost their children to gun violence. And they often ask: When will people march for my child? When will my child be recognized? When will my child be spoken of in the national news?
Day’s organization, Culture Changing Christians, hears on a daily basis from grieving mothers and family members of those harmed by gun violence, begging for support. Begging for something to be done. Begging for someone to pay attention. Begging for leaders to recognize that their loved one’s life mattered. Begging that their trauma be recognized and their healing supported. Begging that these injustices don’t fall on deaf ears.
When it comes to gun violence in urban areas, the Black community too often feels abandoned and ignored. The conversation about gun violence legislation needs to center our communities in this debate.
The same solutions that would help reduce mass shootings would also reduce the daily toll of other forms of gun violence across the country.
Here are things that could make a difference.
First, the media should look for ways to expand the national conversation about gun violence. A map showing the number of mass shootings in the US is shocking. And yet a map illustrating the number of shootings and deaths in 2022 so far would be even more shocking.
After a mass shooting, we see photos of loved ones lost. The national media could put a spotlight on a different American city every weekend and do the same thing. Why not air a crawl across the bottom of every TV screen naming every community member killed by gun violence the day before?
Second, every social movement proclaiming that it stands against violence needs to come together in solidarity with those who are drowning in a daily tidal wave of gun violence. Whether your righteous cause is ending police abuse, ensuring school safety, stopping antisemitic violence, or stopping hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we need to come together. It is time to unite these disparate movements, identify areas we can agree on and find real solutions.
Third, we need to shift the culture of violence in urban America — and in the United States, broadly. For some, violence has become a kind of social currency. People beat up others, just to put videos of it online. All influencers of the culture need to take a big step back from celebrating and promoting violence. We are at a real crisis point.
And lastly, we need focused political and legislative action.
We should accelerate programs that focus on those at the center of gun violence — namely Black and brown people living in poverty. These include Community Violence Intervention programs. These programs support those most at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence. They employ local leaders who are skilled at intervention and teach nonviolent means of addressing conflict. And they understand that addressing gun violence often includes policies such as greening vacant lots and providing access to affordable housing. Organizations such as the Community Justice Action Fund have led this work on the national level. And in Philadelphia, groups such as As I Plant This Seed, Unity in the Community and Culture Changing Christians work every day within their communities to address the root causes of gun violence.
We also must recognize that background checks matter. Congress must close the loopholes that allow unlicensed gun sales without background checks. We must raise the age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21. People should be required to undergo training and get a permit to own a handgun legally. Preventing reckless people from getting guns will decrease the number of guns in communities where gun violence is most devastating.
There is no reason for this debate to pit gun owners against those who don’t own guns. This is a life-or-death emergency that divides responsible gun owners and responsive lawmakers from people who just don’t seem to give a damn. We recognize that 4 in 10 US adults live in a household with a gun, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey. In 2018, there were almost 400 million firearms in private hands, according to an estimate by Small Arms Survey, a nonpartisan group that monitors gun ownership. We must figure out ways to get firearm owners and people who don’t own guns to commit equally to reducing this scourge.
The people most at risk
We implore everyone to understand where Black Americans are and what we’ve been through. These issues have existed for decades in our communities. When people shout about making America great again, we beg them to understand that Black communities have been suffering and overlooked in the midst of carnage for centuries – both imposed and self-inflicted.
We hope and pray that you will stand with us as we advocate for the lives of parents and children in our communities who have been devastated in every major city for years. Our strategy must include political, cultural, national and local responses to this crisis.
The answers are by no means simple, but it is also true that a perpetual state of inaction from elected officials and community leaders is unacceptable. In the conversation about gun violence, we need to center people who are most at risk, instead of leaving the vast majority of victims on the margins.