(NNPA) — People often ask me to deliver words of comfort and strength during some of their most challenging moments in life. Throughout the decades, I have stood side by side with family members of those that have been wrongfully killed in acts of violence – whether those acts were committed by police or from within the community itself. I have witnessed the unbearable heartache of countless grandmothers, grandfathers, parents and children who may very well never recover from their loss. Each and every time, I feel the pain – their pain – at so senselessly losing a human life in what is often a matter of minutes or even seconds. But nothing is more difficult or more disconcerting than when I receive a phone call regarding the shooting death of a mere child. A little over a week ago, I got that ill-fated call.
This past weekend, family, friends and concerned citizens in Detroit gathered to bury 7-year-old Aiyana Jones. Killed at the hands of the Detroit police department in a highly questionable raid that involved a stunt grenade and guns, the precious child quickly became a symbol of the tragic epidemic sweeping cities and towns all across this nation. As more and more guns inundate our streets, and violence is used as a means of resolving even the slightest conflict, when will we finally stop burying our children and instead lay our weapons to rest?
Let me be clear, in no way am I dismissing the police department’s actions or accountability in young Aiyana’s death. As I stated during her eulogy on Saturday, we will ensure that a thorough, uncompromising and independent investigation into her death will take place. And we will collectively hold everyone – including the state police – accountable for explaining precisely what took place during that fateful raid, who was responsible and what the consequences of his or her actions will be. But as we continue to hold authorities liable for their dubious actions, we cannot forget to hold ourselves liable, too.
Just a few days before Aiyana’s horrific death, a 69-year-old Detroit grandmother was shot and killed by a stray bullet as she was cooking dinner in her own home. And as we are all so vividly aware, this plague of violence is not unique to Detroit alone; all we often have to do is simply look in our own neighborhoods. As we laid Aiyana to rest over the weekend, a 20-year-old was shot dead at a reunion for a high school junior class in Queens, N.Y., while two other 19-year-olds were killed in another incident in the borough of the Bronx. Just during this weekend alone, who knows how many countless other young souls we lost all across the country?
As we demand answers from the Detroit police department, we must demand answers from ourselves. We cannot continue to speak of guns and catastrophic violence as if it is something that doesn’t affect each and every one of us. Start an organization, speak to our youth, create after-school programs, run for office, attend community meetings or simply be a mentor to someone who needs the appropriate guidance to put down their weapons. As my dear friend Michael Jackson used to say, we must start with the man in the mirror and we must ask ourselves to change our ways.
We painfully watched as Aiyana’s tiny coffin was buried 6 feet under on Saturday, and I refuse to see any more of our young meet the same fate. We all must act now.
The Rev. Al Sharpton is the founder and president of the National Action Network.