The sharpest critics of Black Lives Matter protesters often say: “Why focus on police shootings? Why aren’t you doing something about gun violence in black communities?”
Truth is, activists have been and are doing something, as African-American leaders in St. Paul recently demonstrated. Representatives from civil rights groups, faith communities, social service organizations and others such as MAD DADS and Save our Sons are working to reduce violence in St. Paul and Minneapolis — on street corners, in the juvenile justice system, at rec centers and wherever they can reach perpetrators, victims and witnesses.
Community leaders gathered last week at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul to stand with law enforcement and publicly call for perpetrators to turn themselves in.
They also urged those who see something to say something. If you have information about shootings, they said, step up to share it to improve safety in your own backyard. And they offered their help to community members who may be afraid to speak up or go to the police — even offering to provide an escort to those planning to turn themselves in.
This latest plea was driven by recent gun violence and the high percentage of black victims. As of early last week, 98 people had been shot in St. Paul this year, according to police records. Of that total, 73 percent were black. The week of Aug. 12, two young men were shot and killed. A similar trend is occurring in Minneapolis.
Clearly, these leaders were not denying the reality of gun violence. Rather, they acknowledge the issue and are taking action to bring offenders to justice. And not for the first time.
Last year, St. Paul and Twin Cities-area black community members denounced violence on the streets and pleaded for peace. And local moms and other activists have participated with police on anti-violence marches and protests.
This time, activists offered their contact information to either relay information about shootings or for shooters to peacefully turn themselves in. Calls can be made to a 24-hour hotline run by Men of MARCH (Men Are Responsible to Cultivate Hope) 612-872-4997, or to St. Paul NAACP President Dianne Binns at 651-500-8754.
During the news conference, Binns said she is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who wants all neighborhood kids to become productive men and women. That’s harder for them to do when “shots fired” is a common occurrence in their communities, Binns said.
Another NAACP and MARCH activist, Greg Jackson Sr., noted that the violence has “a lot to do with egos …” “Those that are involved need to man up … enough is enough. We can’t keep senselessly killing one another and think that it’s OK …
“I have young sons in this community … and I’m tired of tossing and turning, wondering when I’m going to get the call. … If you’re aware of what’s going on and you do nothing about it … you’re part of the problem.”
Those leaders willing to call out the bad actors and silent witnesses in their own communities deserve praise and support. Gun violence is disproportionately hurting black communities in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. The Black Lives Matter movement has brought necessary scrutiny to police-involved shootings and frayed police-community relations. Similarly, black leaders in St. Paul have shown leadership in calling on the public to help address gun violence on city streets.