Raising the Bar: Gun Violence

August 11, 2019

The United States is left grieving again over not one, but two mass shootings in less than 24 hours. On Saturday, a packed Walmart store in El Paso, Texas became a crime scene after a 21 year old man opened fire, not far after posting an anti-Hispanic manifesto onto his social media. A little over 13 hours later, another armed man walked into a bar in Dayton, Ohio, shooting and murdering nine more people–one being his younger sister. In one day, over 30 innocent lives were lost to a topic that goes unresolved. The nation remains divided on the cause of mass shootings: mental health vs. gun control. But, how many more lives should be lost until an agreement is made? 

Raising the Bar hosts Jason Clark, President of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association and Attorney Adeola Adejobi are joined by Veronica N. Dunlap, Director of Strategic Initiatives at National Network for Safe Communities, and Kyle Ishamel, Executive Director of NYS Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus (BPHA Caucus) to discuss Gun Violence.

Aired August 11th, 2019.


DISCLAIMER:  Please be advised that this transcription was done from an audio recording by an out of house service; therefore the accuracy of the transcript may be impacted.  If there is an issue please contact MNN info@mnn.org

Jason Clark: For those of you who are unfamiliar with our organization. The MBBA is the largest association of predominantly African American attorneys in New York. Our aim is to advance equality in the pursuit of justice, assist in the professional development of our members and address legal issues affecting New Yorkers.

Adeola Adejobi: The goal of Raising the Bar with the MBBA is to foster a substantive conversation about justice issues in our community and try to identify a couple of solutions in the process.

Jason Clark: Today, we're going to take a very serious look at the issue of gun violence around our country as well as in New York.

Adeola Adejobi: Joining us today are Veronica Dunlap and Kyle Ishmael. Welcome and let's get to it.

Kyle Ishmael: Thank you.

Veronica Dunlap: Thanks.

Jason Clark: Well, thank you both for coming on and as my good friend [inaudible 00:01:00] says now the time to talk about gun violence. The answer is yes.

Kyle Ishmael: Always.

Jason Clark: As we know, gun violence has been an issue and it's been even a complicated issue where people talk about their second amendment rights, but also talk about ways that we can be able to keep ourselves safe. So there've been a lot, there's been a diversity of views when it comes to gun violence. So maybe a good place to start is can you to tell us a little bit about the state of gun violence, where we are right now, and then maybe we could also talk about where we want to come to gun violence specifically here in New York.

Kyle Ishmael: So I think it's important whenever having a conversation about this to kind of start with the data as your question alludes to it. But also it's really important to note that unfortunately in the U S there's a lot of gaps in data when it relates to gun violence, whether that's because of federal law or state law. There's a lot of information that we do not actually know. But even the information that we do know is alarming. Nationwide, there are 100 gun-related deaths every single day, and that's deaths. That's not even counting injuries.

So the data shows that it's obviously a problem across the country. And a large part of this is driven by suicide, gun violence at the hands of people who are turning the gun on themselves. That's what the data shows that over 100 people are dying every single day from gun violence. And when you look at New York, I say fortunately, obviously it's fortunate when you're comparing states, that New York fares much better. But at the end of the day, there are lives that are being lost and it's not a fortunate situation for those people impacted in those families.

Jason Clark: Yeah. And when you say it's better in New York, what are some of the ways that things may be a little bit better here than they are in some of the other states?

Kyle Ishmael: So, I mean over the years, New York and credit goes to elected officials in New York from the governor on down. The governor's lead on this issue. The state legislature has led on this issue. New York City leads on the issue of gun violence. Some very strong measures were put in place back in 2013. Some really strong updates were made to those measures this past state legislative cycle as well. And so New York, again comparatively, New York does better than every other big state in the US in terms of the amount of gun-related deaths. Again, that doesn't mean that there's not still work to be done.

There's still far too many. And again, when you cite statistics to families impacted by gun violence, it means nothing. But, like I said, compared to other big states in the country, New York does better than every single one, especially given our size where the what, third, fourth largest state in the nation. I believe in 2017 we had under 800 gun-related deaths in the entire state. Again, compared to a lot of other big states, comparable states that had much more.

Adeola Adejobi: Yeah. And can you talk about some of the trends? Because I feel like when I was younger I wasn't hearing as much about this. I mean I don't know if it was happening then. We didn't have as much access to social media and things like that at the time. But if you can talk about some of the background around that, that would be great.

Veronica Dunlap: Sure. While mass shootings tend to capture the most media attention from Columbine and now we're all the way to Parkland, these shootings actually only constitute about 1/10 of 1% of homicide deaths. In contrast, what we call everyday gun violence such as the daily turn of inner city shootings are far more frequent cause of death. And despite the fact that the US in general, the homicide rate has been cut in half since its peak in about 1980, more homicides by firearm are on the rise. Again, talking about everyday gun violence per year, this counts for about over 10,000 or so deaths by firearm.

It marginalized and marginalized communities of color, they are disproportionately impacted by those gun violence deaths.

Adeola Adejobi: I guess from your perspectives, what do you think are some of the contributing factors to those numbers increasing?

Veronica Dunlap: Well, one of the things is gun laws vary by state. So gun laws vary by state and as Kyle was saying, thanks to legislators in New York, we have new laws that sort of put stricter protocols in place for receiving and buying guns. In addition, when it comes to law enforcement, the way they tend to focus on those who are perpetrating gun violence is different from city to city. And so I think New York is progressive in that they use a focused deterrence approach or a ceasefire as it's called approach to gun violence and generally street violence and other cities don't use that.

Jason Clark: Yeah. And then I guess, can you talk a little bit more about what impact this has really on the narrative? Even as we were talking about how New York may be a little bit more progressive when it comes to these issues. Just thinking of myself, a lot of times when you go upstate, you'll see a lot more folks who have maybe different views when it comes to the ability to hold firearms than you have in downstate. So when I'm just trying to think about what the impact is and how even a place like New York, when there is a diversity of opinions on this, depending either one where you live or maybe it's some other factors, how are we able to get some of these changes made?

Again, like what is the general impact?

Kyle Ishmael: I would say surprisingly we see disparities in a lot of things. But the disparities that I think for a lot of people are surprising to see is that when you break down the different counties, as Veronica was talking about, a lot of this stuff plays out on the city level, on towns and villages and counties and how people kind of just like practice the laws that are in place. But what we're seeing is that in a lot of the rural counties and a lot of the upstate counties, they are having higher rates of gun-related deaths than even down in the city.

Obviously, New York City has stricter gun laws than other areas in the state. And so we're seeing that these laws actually do have an impact because where they're more strict, at least here in New York, they're yielding better results. Again, a lot of the reason for the disparity in some of these upstate counties is because gun-related suicide has gone up. The data as you were talking about trends, Jason, I mean the US has seen an increase in gun violence over the past 40 years. We're the highest we've ever been. Again, a lot of that is related to suicide as well.

It's the reason why the state legislature passed the law this past legislative session to work to get guns out of the hands of dangerous people, people who pose a harm to others, people who are at high risk of posing a harm to others or themselves. Because it's one thing to have organizations out in the street and those are absolutely needed to fight back against violence. Most of the time violence is perpetrated against people who know each other. We're talking about domestic violence, we're talking about gang-related violence and even just living amongst your community.

But again, a lot of the driving factor is suicide. And so you can have things, I think that a lot of our policy focus was on getting guns off the streets. But that needs to happen in addition to things like mental health programs in order to help people that are going through things and find and target people who are at high risk. But then also, like I said, this legislation that would seek to get these violent instruments out the hands of people who are more inclined to commit harm to themselves and others. To your point about impact, that has impact on everyone, obviously.

Like losing a family member does a lot for a family. If it's a two person household that now becomes a one person household, that's income that's lost. Obviously, that's love and that's family and care that's lost as well. So, it's a rippling effect. There's many different ways to attack it, but there's disparities as always.

Veronica Dunlap: To Kyle's point about impact, I think that we don't think about the broader impact of gun violence either in the home or in the communities. So one of the things that gun violence impacts is health disparities so that you have to provide healthcare for those people who are injured or you have to also provide in the short term right after shooting, but also in the longterm complications from gunshot wounds. It might be three or five or 10 years that someone is still receiving treatment from a one gunshot incident. In addition, home values in communities that have high incidences of gun violence tend to go down.

Even credit scores are affected by gun violence.

Jason Clark: Yeah. So it seems like there are a lot of ways that we don't even think about as to how gun violence affects folks. Just even as we're talking here, there's just a couple of things that come to mind. I think as Kyle is mentioning, I think it's great and it seems like we are moving the needle when it comes to trying to reduce the amount of folks who are using firearms to to kill themselves or figure out ways to be able to prevent people who may be a danger to themselves or a danger to others having firearms in their possessions.

Are there particular things, whether it's legislation or just policies that you think that we should be doing to even make more changes moving forward? Or do you think that where we are as a good place?

Kyle Ishmael: I'd say we're ... Obviously, we could always be better. I don't believe in 100%. Even if you're at 99, you can always do more. There are still, like I said, the data shows that upwards of 100 people died of ... 800 people, excuse me, died from gun violence back in 2017 in New York State. So there's obviously more that can be done more, like I said, if suicide is the driving factor there, then obviously more can be done there. We can be doing more for mental health. We could be doing more to pour resources into the people in the areas that need it the most.

Again, relatively New York is doing well. New York is doing better. But I think that, and Veronica made this point as well, these laws are enacted on a state by state level. The federal government is absolutely failing when it comes to addressing gun violence in the US. Like I said, New York is doing well, but the US as a whole is doing much worse than we've ever been. This is the worst we've ever been. I mean, to Jason's point, every single day on social media, I post is now the time to talk about gun violence? And I've been doing that for almost two years since the last biggest shooting in Las Vegas.

But, it seems as though every year we're surpassing that and there's another next biggest shooting. So, there's a lot that can still be done across the United States. Other states could be an acting laws like New York's, perhaps even going further, perhaps providing even more resources. Because you can't have it where there's one state that's doing great work and then all the other states around it are not because ...

Adeola Adejobi: Really quickly. So you were saying how obviously it's different. It varies state by state. And you said the federal government is not doing enough. So I guess the audience would want to know what are some of the things that the federal government could be doing or potentially should be doing in order to combat this issue?

Kyle Ishmael: Right. So in New York they banned bump stocks. There was a lot of conversation about bump stocks federally a couple of years ago. Yeah. A bump stock is, and I'm no gun expert ... A bump stock is essentially something that can be purchased not in New York anymore, but something you can go on like Amazon and purchase and it will enhance a gun. That's the most basic way for me to say it without messing anything up. It allows you to shoot more ammo, to shoot it quicker. And who needs that? We don't need that. And so that's something that was banned in New York.

There was conversation about it on the federal level about banning it on the federal level, and it just never happened. And when I say that, I mean that in the last couple of years. This current administration didn't want to move on it. There was talk about it as if people actually cared about doing something about it, but they didn't actually get anything done. So that's an example of something easy that can be done. These instruments are not needed by everyday people, yet everyday people can purchase them, add them to their guns, and now they're enhanced weapons of mass destruction.

So that's one of a number of things that can be done on a federal level and across states in the US.

Adeola Adejobi: Veronica, what's your perspective?

Veronica Dunlap: Think about the unfortunate tragedy that happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the prime minister then decided that they were going to ban like automatic assault rifles and assault weapons in the whole entire country. And so that's a more extreme way to approach gun violence and especially mass shootings and people who have mental health issues getting a hold of guns that can do a lot of damage in a very short amount of time. I think in the United States, there are state's rights and many advocates for the second amendment.

But when you think about the actual use of the weapon, do we really need military assault style weapons to go deer hunting? I don't think so. And so while it seems extreme, there are measures that can be taken on a federal level like those taken in New Zealand to reduce gun violence.

Kyle Ishmael: I just want to add, it wouldn't even be all that extreme. In the US, we've had an assault band before, but it had a sunset and it passed and Congress was never able to put it in place again. Some of these things are not extreme. Some of these things are very reasonable. And if you look at the polling, the majority of Americans support a lot of common sense gun measures. It's just the people who represent us unfortunately haven't been able to gather the willpower, the political power in order to get a lot of these things done.

Jason Clark: Yeah. Especially on a show like Raising the Bar, the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a lot of us here are ... We watch these shows or we talk about these issues because we're interested in the community and what's going on. Yes, federally, internationally, statewide, but also what's going on like in our specific neighborhoods. In addition to, we've talked a little bit about what's going on stateside. We've talked a little bit about some of the challenges on the federal side. Just even from this even taking the legislature out of it for a moment, what can communities do?

What can we do within our community to be able to reduce the violence that for some of us we just see too often. Veronica.

Veronica Dunlap: So that's a great point. A lot of times we think about problems in our communities and we look to the legislators and we looked to our elected officials for solutions without thinking that we can be the solution. One of the tenants of the MBBA is I Am A Solution.

Adeola Adejobi: I Am A Solution.

Veronica Dunlap: In our neighborhoods, we can be the solution and there are certain groups, for example Street Corner Resources in Harlem run by Iesha Sekou. It's a group of young people. It's a programming where they can go after school, they have summer internship placement and not only that, they do occupy the corners. So corners where they know there tends to be a lot of drug transactions and a lot of elicit activity. They stand there all night from like 11 until two in the morning and they play music and they dance and they play dominoes. It is a way to sort of break up the negative behavior that's sort of impacting the community in ways that they don't like.

Jason Clark: Right. Shout out to Iesha and Arthur, too.

Veronica Dunlap: Absolutely. Another great organization that is community based and it's all about gun violence reduction is Life Camp Incorporated. That's run by Erica Ford here in New York city as well, and they actually deploy street outreach workers who go out to teach conflict resolution to do gun violence deescalation, to mentor young people, and they also give out materials to community members and partners in the community that are about mental health resources. Anything from how to pay your child support, how to get a GED, how to understand the probation and parole terms so that you don't get in trouble and then use gun violence to get yourself out of trouble.

Jason Clark: Yeah. No, and actually that makes a lot of sense because especially when you're talking about conflict resolution. To me, there is a confluence of steps and decisions that were made before someone decides to pull out a gun and to use a gun. What are the things that we could be able to do on a community level, just on an individual level, all those things? And there are things that people are doing to try to make sure that it doesn't escalate to that point where now there's very little that can be done or you're just hoping someone does the right thing.

But there's so many things that have been done and could be done beforehand. So I think that's a really good point.

Veronica Dunlap: And just to elaborate on that, they're people, young people walking around in your community, speak to them, speak positivity to them. When you're on your way from the subway, say good morning, say good evening, say what are you doing this summer? I might know someone who has opportunities for young people. Model for them what you want to see in them and it will reflect back into the community.

Jason Clark: What are some of the things that your groups are doing? Let us know so we can apply to you and figure out ways how we could do that in other ways as well.

Kyle Ishmael: So in my kind of day to day, I'm the executive director of New York State's Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Asian Legislative Caucus. So I work in the legislature and I split my time between Albany and New York City. I'm also the executive director of the Manhattan Democratic Party, so kind of the political arm as well. Honestly, within both of those hats, I come across and work with a lot of groups, obviously the elected officials as well in enacting laws. Some of the ones that we spoke about earlier, but also coming across a lot of the groups that Veronica talked about.

There's other ones, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, which is a coalition of a lot of different groups that have really been advocating for years for the legislation that's been passed. But what's important to keep in mind about these groups is that they are the grassroots, they are on the ground. They are the people in the communities who are standing on the corners late at night to ensure that they are a presence in their community and pushing back against violence. And so anybody who is looking to get involved, anybody who is looking to ensure that their particular circle, their particular bubble, their particular community is safe from the scourge of gun violence absolutely has resources, absolutely has groups, individuals that are working in the communities because they're all across the state.

Like I said, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence is an amazing coalition that has a footprint all across the state. They have been partners with the caucus in the past to push some of the legislation that we've been working on. So I always encourage people to check them out.

Veronica Dunlap: And I am the director of strategic initiatives at the National Network for Safe Communities, and we pioneered the ceasefire initiative in Boston in the 1990s which is now in about 40 cities around the country, including in New York city. What ceasefire does is take a focused deterrence method in examining gun violence and examining community safety and public safety and in integrating law enforcement outreach and support agencies, social service agencies as well as community members themselves becoming a part of the strategy. What that looks like in practice is identifying those who are at risk.

And by at risk, I mean at risk of being a victim of gun violence. A lot of people like to look at it the other way around. You can't preemptively really guess who is going to find a gun and shoot someone. But you can guess that if you live in this neighborhood and you have certain factors that are a part of your lifestyle, you are at risk of being a victim of gun violence, everyday gun violence. And so we identify those folks and we ask them what kind of resources that they need to sort of get them out of the street life.

Then, we have community members speak to them about how they themselves got out of the street life. And so we're there for more of an offer of help and if you take away the influential top players in the gun violence sort of scheme in the neighborhood, you really have an exponential decrease in shootings.

Adeola Adejobi: Then in terms of some of the solutions that you all have, I guess polled the community about, could you talk about maybe what some of those solutions were or some of the things that people said that they needed in terms of resources?

Veronica Dunlap: Absolutely. I think some of the things that outsiders assume is that they need jobs, they need education, they need, but if you actually go in and ask community members, some of the top things they say are we need food. I need childcare. I need to understand how to pay my child support so that I don't violate my probation and go to jail, so then I have to do other things that are illegal to try to help my family get money. And so really taking a step back and listening and having intentional listening sessions with the community, you really got to understand the character, the dimensions of the issues and then respond accordingly.

So you have to listen to what people are saying and stop thinking that we know what these people need. Right?

Adeola Adejobi: Right.

Veronica Dunlap: We are our community, so regardless of what profession you're in or how much time you spend walking around the block, we are still part of our community and we are all collectively responsible for helping them heal.

Adeola Adejobi: Yeah. I mean that's an amazing point, and it came right on time because we are currently out of time.

Veronica Dunlap: Okay.

Jason Clark: Actually, before we finish up, and I feel like everyone who's watching this show is probably thinking the same question, especially with the debates getting started and people, I think for the coming back and talking about what are these big issues that affect not just people in their own communities, but nationwide. What are some ideas or what are some things that you hope are going to be part of the gun violence narrative when certain different candidates are going to be running for office? What do you want to hear people talking about?

Kyle Ishmael: Honestly, I want to hear the candidates lean in to we've talked a lot about community. I want to hear the candidates lean in to the communities that have been impacted by gun violence on either side of that. There's an impact to obviously the victims of gun violence something I think we don't talk about really at all, the impact to the families of people who might have perpetrated gun violence. It's almost a double loss for them. But I think that the presidential candidates need to lean in to Veronica's point about being of the community and talking to people in our community.

They need to listen to the people in communities who are impacted by gun violence on every level and incorporate that into their messaging, incorporate that into their policy. I think the Parkland kids as they've come to be called are absolutely leading on this. There's members of our communities here in New York, in the city, all throughout the state that are leading on these issues and have been successful. And so I think that it's great to hear senators, governors, elected officials who are seeking the highest office in the land talk about whether it's their personal experience or just the things they want to do.

But they really need to listen to the people in the community and say that we're going to be here for you. We're going to make sure that we get these things done. That's what I want to hear.

Jason Clark: Glad you take part in this, man.

Adeola Adejobi: Great point. But that's all the time that we have. We want to thank you for watching Raising the Bar with the MBBA on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network.

Jason Clark: Thank you very much. See you next time.

About the Program

Raising the Bar with the MBBA

Co-hosts Jason Clark, President of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association (MBBA), Attorney Adeola Adejobi, and their guests discuss legal issues facing the African American community.

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