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ICYMI: Congresswoman Cori Bush Advocates for Community-based Solutions to Prevent Gun Violence

May 21, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, in a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the unending crisis of gun violence and mass shootings, Vice Chair Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01) spoke about the traumatic impact gun violence has on the people of St. Louis, and how it disproportionately harms Black and brown communities. The Congresswoman questioned the witnesses about how community gun violence prevention programs can be utilized to prevent the daily tragedies occurring in Missouri’s First District and across the country. 

Her questioning of witnesses Pastor Michael E. Grady of Prince of Peace Christian Fellowship Church, whose daughter was shot in the El Paso Massacre, and Adam Skaggs, a legal expert with the Giffords Law Center, focused on community gun violence prevention programs and the potential unintended consequences of gun safety policies for Black and brown communities. 

CLICK HERE FOR A MUST WATCH MOMENT

A full transcript of her questioning and exchange with the witnesses is available below.

Transcript: Congresswoman Cori Bush Questions Witnesses on community gun violence prevention programs and gun safety policies (May 20, 2021)

CONGRESSWOMAN CORI: St. Louis and I thank you for convening this important hearing. 

People in my district are no strangers to gun violence. This year alone, we have had 73 homicides just in the City of St. Louis with a population of less than 300,000 people  —   countless incidents of domestic violence, child abuse, and other forms of traumatic community violence. For years, we have watched our neighborhoods, schools, parks, and infrastructure be underfunded or actively defunded. 

My hometown has been devastated by a lack of access to trauma prevention and mental health services. At the same time, Black and brown people in my community are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration, mass deportations, and over-policing. We must expand our understanding of gun violence, as well as proposed solutions to attack gun control as a social issue, rather than carceral. Preventing gun violence means prioritizing the well-being of our communities by bolstering social programs and providing resources and support for those who need it the most. 

Pastor Grady, I extend my sincerest empathy to your family for the trauma you endured following the El Paso Massacre. I thank you for being here to speak on behalf of the countless victims of gun violence who have endured a similar fate. In the interest of preventing gun violence before it happens, can you speak to the utility of community violence prevention programs? 

MR. GRADY: Yes, I believe the community-based violence intervention programs really have a proven track record of being effective and are vital in ensuring the safety of our communities. It’s relationship-based, it’s outreach strategies, it’s working with law enforcement, as well as with the faith-based community and to educate and to provide resources. I mean human resources  — funding that we might be able to arrest some of the ills that continue to perplex our communities. And being one of the keys of achieving a more just and peaceful America, focusing on significant investment or strategy that reduce violence, that brings communities together to expose the darkness, to offer the light because it’s not just one particular thing that causes mass shootings. It is a community, it is a dis-ease, a not-at-ease in our communities, based on resources and then incarceration rates. Again, and what happens once a person is released from institutionalized places where they are supposed to be rehabilitated. And, as you know, I’m from St. Louis, many times when someone is released from incarceration, they drop them off maybe a block from where they picked them up. So back into that environment consistently. So I believe, again, if we could continue to get funding for our community-based intervention programs, if we could continue to work with the faith-based community and to invite our law enforcement agencies to be more community-based, we can begin to arrest this situation and circumstance. Thank you so much, Congresswoman.

CONGRESSWOMAN CORI: No, thank you. Thank you, Pastor Grady.

Mr. Skaggs, as Policy Director of the Giffords Law Center, can you speak to how these laws are applied in practice? And, specifically, can you describe potential unintended consequences of these gun safety policies for Black and brown communities who are often the ones that are disproportionately criminalized, and charged, and prosecuted for firearms? The unintended consequences.

MR. SKAGGS: I think there are serious structural problems with our criminal justice system and mass incarceration in this country, and all too often Black and brown Americans bear the brunt of those structural problems. And I think it’s critically important that any of the policies that we’re looking at, we look very carefully at enforcement to ensure even-handed, fair enforcement. And there’s a very, very long way to go, but I think the policies we’re talking about today are important steps forward to addressing this ongoing crisis. And I think we need to pass the bills that we’ve been talking about. 

CONGRESSWOMAN CORI: I firmly believe we have the power to transform our communities with intentional and deliberate policies that encourage the overall health and the well-being of those who have the least. Carceral solutions only serve to exacerbate these issues and increase the number of interactions between civilians and the police. It is time to fully fund and support community-led and developed solutions to address the root causes of trauma and of gun violence. We cannot police our way to public safety.

Thank you, and I yield back.
 

To watch and download the Congresswoman’s full exchange, click here.

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Congresswoman Cori Bush represents Missouri’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. She serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She is also a Deputy Whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a proud member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She is a registered nurse, single mother, and an ordained pastor. Following the murder of Michael Brown Jr. by a now-terminated Ferguson police officer, she became a civil rights activist and community organizer fighting for justice for Black lives on the streets of Missouri and across the country.