Gun Violence, Mental Health & #GetCovered: What You Need To Know And Do This Week [The Lookout]

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1. Playing Games With Our Lives: New York Pastor Raffles Off Assault Rifle

You have got to be kidding me! Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, and unfortunately, people are more callous and clueless than you could ever imagine. On Tuesday, a pastor in the Upstate New York town of Lansingburgh raffled off a free high-powered assault rifle to anyone who attended his sermon that day. And here’s the kicker, the gun was nearly the same as the one used to kill 26 children in the Sandy Hook Massacre. Now whatever anyone’s personal opinion about the 2nd amendment, we have to draw the line somewhere. Celebrating and trivializing a weapon capable of murdering nearly three-dozen innocent children and their teachers, which has almost no legal safeguards to keep it out of the hands of the general public, misses the point. This shouldn’t even be about protecting a legal right to own a gun, it should be about protecting our God-given human right to life—and to not have that life threatened by someone else’s recreational habits. The number one cause of death for young men of color in this country is gun violence, it’s a massacre everyday and every year; it’s our children’s lives they are raffling off by putting those assault rifles in our churches, in our schools, and on our streets.

2. Brooklyn Bus Shooting And The Price of Ineffective Gun Control

Its undeniable that guns are killing our kids everyday across this country, but what’s worse is that too often these young men and women are the ones doing the killing. Keeping guns off the streets means keeping them out of the hands of children too young to care for themselves let alone handle a weapon capable of murder. Just last week, at 6:20pm on March 20, folks boarded the B15 bus in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, ready to go home to their families after a day of work and school when a 14-year old boy began shooting wildly, killing a 39-year-old father of two. He was aiming to shoot another young man who the teen shooter said was his rival.

Every child murdered and every child murderer is a failure of the powers-that-be to ensure effective gun control, teach gun safety, and provide opportunities that keep our youth in school and working towards a productive future. This is a tragedy, an epidemic of violence and an epidemic of mental illness. A far too similar shooting occurred a few months ago at a crowded ice skating rink in New York City where a teenage boy shot at another young man for the coat he was wearing. Why would a 14-year-old feel the need to kill, to shoot up a bus or a skating rink full of innocent people? Where were his parents, his teachers, and his community checking in on his mental well-being? We simply do not place a high value on the mental wellness of our youth, and something has to be done to change that.

3. Taboo Breaking: Mental Illness and The Black Community

The unfortunate truth is, we don’t talk enough about mental illness in our community, whether its for the young, old, or middle aged—we just don’t talk about it until tragedy has struck. At the beginning of this month, pregnant 32-year-old Ebony Wilkerson attempted to drive herself and her two children into the Atlantic Ocean. The woman said she heard voices and was seeing demons in her home. After being arrested for attempted murder, she claimed she had no intention of harming herself or her children. When mental illness is swept under the rug and discourse is nonexistent, we prevent people from getting the help they need.

Mental illness, depression, schizophrenia—all of it is taboo in the Black community. And even now, the conversation here is about putting Wilkerson in prison, or looking at her case as an isolated incident carried out by one person. That’s true, but once again, it’s missing the point. There are countless people out there facing terrible mental illness, with no help and no one to go to. We have to start teaching our children that depression and other forms of illness are often treatable and fortunately under new healthcare laws, it’s affordable. If we offer no outlets, and we refuse to talk about these underlying issues, we should not be shocked to see more stories like this in the future.

4. Health Services Under Attack

Here they go again! While we look forward to more equal and affordable healthcare with the Affordable Care Act, other health resources are under attack. On Tuesday, a Federal Appeals Court ruled that the State of Kansas could legally pull funding from two Planned Parenthood facilities that had previously advocated for legalized abortion. This is an unnecessary punishment, not just for Planned Parenthood, but for the community they serve. The fact is, Planned Parenthood is a resource for millions of women and families who need help caring for themselves and their children, not just planning to terminate their pregnancies; abortion referrals are just once service they will help their clients to find. Taking this safe and open space away from the men and women who go there is a disservice to Kansas and to America.

5. This is Our Moment: The Affordable Care Act Deadline

Speaking of healthcare, if you haven’t already, now is the time to #GetCovered! The deadline to enroll in the Affordable Care Act without facing any penalties is this Monday, March 31st. Don’t miss your opportunity to have the affordable healthcare we have all been waiting for. We elected and reelected our President for this. Regardless of the initial rollout issues, more than 5 million Americans have already signed themselves up for this incredible and incredibly hard-fought opportunity and hopefully millions more including you and your community will do the same this week.

I am certain that the ACA is one of the most important legacies of President Barack Obama, or of any President in the last 50 years. Black Americans suffer from incredible health disparities. From Cancer to heart disease and other chronic illnesses, it’s our families and friends who are suffering the most. Regardless of the strides we’ve made in the fight for civil rights, we have been almost unable to close the gap in healthcare between Black and White Americans. Now we have the chance, and if we don’t take it we’ll be wasting this opportunity.

To do all that I can to ensure that ACA has the largest impact possible, on Friday March 28th I will lead a critical one-day campaign along with celebrity personalities and fellow community activists—the ACA #GetCovered Tour—to enroll eligible communities of color across New York City in the Affordable Care Act. I’ll be joined by Hip-Hop legend and Brooklyn native Lil Kim; VH1’s Love and Hip-Hop star, Yandy Smith; musical artists Juelz Santana and Maino (also New York natives); NBA veteran Dahntay Jones; Editor-in-Chief of Global Grind and Political Director to Russell Simmons Michael Skolnik; Political Strategist, Co-founder and CEO of WEEN Valeisha Butterfield Jones; community advocate for the Bronx and former White House Aide, Michael Blake; President of Young Professionals for Change, Brian Benjamin; political activist Marvin Bing, Jr; and many more. This is our moment; we fought hard for it to happen, so lets fight hard to keep it—#GetCovered!

I’ve spent my entire career as a civil rights activist and anti-violence advocate. I hear from folks all over the country about how fed-up they are—how much they want change—but they don’t know where to start. It’s not enough just to be informed, we’ve got to work tirelessly to do better. With the “The Lookout,” I’ll collect the most important stories and action items that you need to know about and things you can do each week, keeping you involved so you can create positive change for yourself and your community.

I want to hear from you; what’s going on in your community? What stories or events should folks know about? Leave a comment below. 

More About Tamika Mallory

Called “a leader of tomorrow” by Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie B. Jarrett, Tamika D. Mallory is a nationally recognized leader and civil rights activist. Tamika is the Founder/President of Mallory Consulting, LLC and the former Executive Director of the National Action Network (NAN), one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations. She is featured regularly as a leading voice on key social justice issues and is currently making headlines around the country for her tireless activism and strong stance on women’s issues, anti-violence, young adult advocacy, and decency. 

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