Mohandas Gandhi, who employed nonviolent civil disobedience to win India’s independence from Britain, and who inspired civil rights movements around the world, was assassinated on January 30, 1948. Twenty years later, on April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize winner and the greatest advocate of nonviolent action in the United States, also was killed by an assassin. The influence and example of both leaders live on, however, and for the past 16 years, the 64 day-period between the tragic anniversaries marking their deaths has been designated as the Season for Nonviolence. The world-wide campaign was co-founded in 1998 by the Association for Global New Thought, and Arun and Sunanda Gandhi; Arun Gandhi is Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors acted unanimously on a motion brought by Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, declaring Jan. 30 through April 4 as the Season for Nonviolence in Los Angeles County. The purpose of the Season for Nonviolence is to put into practice the belief that every person can move the world toward a more peaceful existence through daily nonviolent choices and actions. “The principles of nonviolence are as relevant today as they were in 1948,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “As a disciple of Dr. King’s, I truly believe that changing the world for the better begins by committing to the struggle to improve our lives through direct, powerful and peaceful means.”
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Isis Attoia, a 15-year-old high school student from Hawthorne, does not walk around his neighborhood at night because he fears he might be shot. This is not mere speculation; relatives of his have been shot. He would like to see an end to gun violence. And so Attoia took time on a recent Saturday to attend the 21st Annual Empowerment Congress Summit Days of Dialogue discussion on gun violence prevention, an event co-sponsored by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Attoia was one of hundreds who sat around a table s at the University of Southern California and attempted to find solutions to the epidemic of gun violence both here in Los Angeles and across America.
What he heard made him optimistic that he could help lead his friends and fellow students away from violence.
“I will tell my friends not to use guns and I will not use guns,” he said.
The Days of Dialogue initiative is a non-partisan forum founded nearly two decades ago after the civil unrest that erupted in Los Angeles with the Rodney King beating verdict. Spurred by the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut last December, the Days of Dialogue at the Empowerment Congress Summit focused on how communities can band together to end gun violence.
Others like Jerilyn Stapleton of the advocacy group The Peace Alliance, said it was productive to hear the points of view from people of all backgrounds and ages. For example, her baby boomer generation did not grow up playing video games, she said, and she is leery of their influence. Yet she shared her perspective with a young person at her table for whom video games are as familiar and common as records or cassettes were for her. People of all backgrounds, however, seemed to find a common sense of purpose and a lot of agreement, Stapleton said.
“People here understand that gun violence is a public health issue,” she said.
The statistics on gun violence are haunting. In 2010, more than 31,000 Americans died as a result of gun violence. The United States accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population and 35 percent of all civilian gun ownership. A gun in the home makes the likelihood of homicide three times higher, suicide three to five times higher and accidental death four times higher, according to the Children’s Defense Fund.
Participants at the Days of Dialogue forum ranged from high school students to ministers to teachers, all with the objective of asking why gun violence prevention seems controversial, how the Second Amendment relates to gun violence and how individuals could contribute to reducing gun violence. Avis Ridley-Thomas, co-director of UCLA’s Institute for Non-Violence in Los Angeles, moderated the event.
At one table, Michael Harris, an elder at the Metropolitan Church of Christ in Carson, speculated why so many people in the country are resistant to discussing ways to prevent gun violence.
“They don’t see the everyday violence that goes on in our communities,” he said. If they could see it, they would not shrug off the devastating consequences of gun violence for families, neighborhoods and whole communities, he noted. “So, how do we get dialogue?”
But Angeles Echols Brown, a teacher at an Upward Bound Program, said she was not interested in trying to convince the National Rifle Association to discuss reasonable ways to reduce gun violence. She said it was more important to educate people in her community so that solutions could be found on a grassroots level.
“I don’t need to dialogue with the NRA to address what is going on in my community and with my kids,” she said. “We must empower ourselves and bring that to our children.”
Donna Cassyd, a former principal at local continuation school, agreed with Brown.
“We can talk to the NRA but I don’t think they are going to do the right thing,” she said.
Others, however, were ready to take on the gun lobby. Occidental College student Emily Pelz, said the lingering sadness and anger of what happened in Newtown should motivate people to brave the NRA and engage in civic action so that the gun lobby would lose its power.
But the Rev. N.W. Martin of the New Life Institutional Baptist Church took a note of caution. It would not be easy to move the needle.
“The gun lobby is very strong in our state houses and in our Congress,” he said, adding, “This Newtown issue is a watershed moment. If we are ever going to do it, this is the time.”
Pelz said she had recently re-watched Michael Moore’s documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” made in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine, Colorado school shooting and had felt re-energized.
“This may be naïve,” she said. “Because, yes, the gun lobby has tons of money, but we have voices and the vote. If we make a loud enough racket, maybe we can change things.”
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On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, nearly 400 weapons were surrendered at a recent Gift for Guns exchange program in Compton, with more than $38,000 worth of Target and Ralphs market gift cards given away. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheriff Lee Baca co-sponsored the event, offering residents an opportunity to surrender their firearms safely and anonymously. People turning in guns received a $200 dollar gift card for an assault weapon, $100 dollar gift card for a handgun, rifle, or shotgun and a $50 dollar gift card for a non-operational gun. At the end of the day, 22 assault rifles, 193 rifles, 5 shotguns, 144 hand guns, and 22 non-operational guns were collected. The collected guns will be melted down at the Sheriff’s Department Annual Gun Melt and used for construction materials or “Peace Angels” sculptures.
“We must continue to strive for ending gun violence,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “I can think of no better way to have spent the 84th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday than working to convince residents to give up their weapons, improve the safety of their neighborhoods and buy something valuable like food or clothing. Nothing good comes at the point of a gun.”
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With the tragedy in Newtown heavy in the air, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined law enforcement officials, city and other county leaders to urge New Year’s revelers to celebrate responsibly and forego one of the most season’s most dangerous and deadly rituals: shooting a firearm into the air at the stroke of midnight.
“This is a matter of physics,” the Supervisor said. “What goes up must come down.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck elaborated, emphasizing that a bullet falls to earth at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour — more than enough force to kill.
With guns collected from the Los Angeles City gun buyback held Wednesday on display, Beck, Sheriff Lee Baca, County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and City attorney Carmen Trutanich also emphasized that discharging a firearm, even when aimed up into the air, is a felony and subject to stiff consequences. “Don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve in my jail or in Lee Baca’s jail,” the police chief said.
“Think twice about it,” Lacey urged the public. “Don’t be reckless.” She added that offenders risk a $10,000-fine, three years of incarceration and forever losing the right to own a gun.
“This is not a matter of playtime,” the Supervisor said. “Don’t let your celebration cause someone else to lose his or her life. We have had way too much tragedy and don’t need anymore.”
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As a newborn, Roneisha Pugh was placed in the care of a grandfather who looked after her until he died of complications from AIDS. Pugh and her brothers were then sent to live with an aunt who cared for them until she died of cancer. That tragedy left Pugh and her brothers at the mercy of her aunt’s alcoholic husband who, Pugh says, was physically and mentally abusive.
But Pugh, who lives in Inglewood, was determined to succeed. So she moved out of her uncle’s home and found the love and support she needed with extended family. She went from nearly failing out of school to being among the top 15 students in her class now at St. Mary’s Academy. She won an award for her dedication to community service, and is now focused on going to college and becoming a doctor.
“Getting out of that situation was the best thing that has happened to me,” said Pugh, who is 17. “I am beating the odds and becoming one step closer to my goals.”
Pugh was one of five teens awarded with the 2012 Beat the Odds $10,000 scholarship sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund at its 22nd Annual Gala in Beverly Hills. The Beat the Odds Scholarship and Leadership Program provides high school students with a college scholarship and numerous support services, including mentoring, internship placements, leadership development, college counseling, and SAT prep.
More than 450 education supporters including Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, Children’s Defense Fund President, Marian Wright Edelman, a wide range of Hollywood entertainers, and community organizers attended the event.
But the real stars of the evening were Pugh and Yahydia Iñiguez, Richard Kent, and fraternal twins Jade and Jalen Woods. One-by one, an emotional documentary based on the life of each recipient was shown before the large crowd followed by an award presentation.
Fraternal twins, Jade and Jalen Woods, have drawn strength from each other. At the age of four Jade and Jalen’s parents separated, forcing their mother to move them to a shelter in Arizona. When they returned to California bouncing from their mother to their father, the bitterness between their parents made it difficult to remain focused in school. But the siblings pulled through and today they are leaders in their community. Jade is the Chairperson for the Children’s Defense Fund- Los Angeles Youth Policy Advisory Committee. Jalen, a star athlete, has earned more than 45 trophies and MVP awards for basketball. The two, who attend Frederick K.C. Price III School in South Los Angeles, maintain grade point averages above 4.0. and are eager to go to college.
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