According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the leading cause of death for African-Americans between the ages of 15 and 34.
Shae Harris of the Community Justice Reform Coalition
joins host Sheila Hyland to discuss efforts to prevent gun violence and champion criminal justice reform.
Hyland: The Violence Policy Center reports that in 2015, while African-Americans were 13% of the population, they accounted for 51% of homicide victims. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. In 2016, non-Hispanic black men were more than 10 times more likely than their white counterparts to die by homicide in the United States. Shae Harris with the Community Justice Reform Coalition joins me to discuss efforts to prevent gun violence in urban communities of color, and of course, much more. Shae, thank you for being our guest today.
Harris: Thank you for having me.
Hyland: The statistics I mentioned are really staggering. Put those in perspective for us. What do those numbers really mean?
Harris: Yeah, it´s a really staggering statistic, and the reality is that, again, African-Americans only make up about 13% of our population and yet are over 51% of homicide and victims of gun violence. And so we have to really look at what´s happening in our communities that allow for these type of statistics to exist. And so, whether it´s institutional poverty, racism, failing education systems -- all of those intersect in the gun violence that we unfortunately see plaguing our communities.
Hyland: And how the Community Justice Reform Coalition -- it´s a grassroots organization -- is trying to make a difference. What exactly are you doing to combat some of those problems?
Harris: Great question. We´re investing in leaders that are already existing in those communities, that are doing the work on the ground daily, and we´re building coalition and then taking it to the masses. And so it looks different in every state, but that´s what we´re doing.
Hyland: So, then, you´re effecting change at the policy level with what you´re doing?
Harris: Absolutely -- both at the policy as well as the grassroot level. And so, for policy, for example, there is a great organization that´s organizing in Florida right now, and it´s around restoring the rights of over 100 -- or excuse me -- one million people there that are seeking to have their voting rights restored. So that´s one of the small ways that we´re investing in people and growing it across the country.
Hyland: And why isn´t it enough just to rely on, say, our lawmakers and our law enforcement to effect change, as far as gun violence is concerned?
Harris: Because, unfortunately, that´s not gonna get people to put down the guns. When people have no hope and they don´t feel like they are a part of our community, then, unfortunately, we have gun violence. And so lawmakers have a role, policymakers have a role -- right? -- but we all have a role. And part of it is making people feel like they´re part of the community.
Hyland: So, I have to ask -- What progress have you been able to make in the fight against gun violence?
Harris: Yeah, in the few years that the coalition has been up and running, we´ve seen wins and victories across the country, whether it be through various policies that have passed, getting people elected to office that reflect what the coalition stands for. Those are a few of the victories, but we have a long way to go.
Hyland: I understand that you are really trying to bring millennials and women more into the conversation than they have been in the past.
Harris: Absolutely. When we look at every successful movement, women and young people have been at the forefront of it. Oftentimes, they don´t necessarily get the acclaim, but that´s part of what we´re doing. We want to really center women, people of color, people that are at the margins, to be a part of the conversation, as well.
Hyland: The CJRC has said that, "We believe that to truly free ourselves from trauma, we must reimagine and redefine what safety and security mean for those at the margins of society." What do you mean when you say that, as far as from the coalition´s standpoint?
Harris: Yeah, again, it´s taking people that are on the margins. And so it´s impoverished people, it´s people of color, it´s people that often feel neglected or have been neglected for whatever reason in their communities, and investing in them, building their leadership. And then, again, once you do that, if you invest in women, then you invest in families. And so that´s all part of what the coalition is seeking to do.
Hyland: Okay, and you also have a peacemaker campaign that´s going on across the country. Talk about that.
Harris: Yes, again, that takes young leaders from across the country, and it brings them together, and they´re building peace. So, it may look like a rally. Again, it may look like coalition-building. It may look like going to their legislator and lobbying for really important initiatives that are happening across the country.
Hyland: And what are the ways that individuals and organizations can become a part or a partner with CJRC?
Harris: Sure, well, certainly go to the website, which is www.communityjusticerc.org, to learn what we´re doing. And there are speakers throughout the country that are doing great work. You can find their information there and then connect with them.
Hyland: All right, Shae, we wish you the best and continued success with the organization going forward. And you are definitely making a difference.
Harris: Thank you.
Hyland: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland.