By Bernice A. King
The mind and heart reel at the thought of the sheer evil and brutality that makes such horrific tragedies possible as the killings in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut . Having lost a father and grandmother to gun violence, it is a familiar feeling to me, and I embrace the families of the victims in my heart and prayers. It is painful beyond measure to lose a loving father and grandmother to violence. But to lose a beloved child and the adults who were dedicated to educating the children to sudden, senseless violence in the midst of the holiday season must be a feeling that is beyond comprehension.
Once again, we face the reality that no one is safe, not even our children at their places of learning. The soul-shattering feelings of anger and despair we feel, along with a sense of hopelessness leave us wondering if our society is irrevocably infected with violence.
What we must not do is surrender to despair and hopelessness and the cynical assumption that there is nothing we can do. What we must do is turn our anger and outrage into a positive force for reforms that can help prevent future tragedies.
What, we wonder, can be done to prevent such unpredictable outbreaks of violence? No, we can’t always pinpoint when a specific individual will erupt in a spree of deadly violence. But it is just possible that we can begin to create a less violent society, a society in which nonviolent conflict reconciliation is a more widely-held value, a society in which individuals with serious mental health problems are more likely to be identified and more likely to receive needed treatment and care.
Last summer at the King Center in Atlanta we held two summer camp sessions for high school youth. Through role-playing exercises and other educational techniques, we were able to expose the youth to the nonviolent philosophy and teachings of my father, Martin Luther King, Jr. – not only as a means of social protest, but as a way of life in our homes, schools and communities. We were able to help these young people develop a sense of personal awareness about the possibilities for resolving conflicts peacefully, and there is every reason to believe that similar programs can be replicated nation-wide to good effect.
In the name of “national security,’ our government spends billions every week on military weapons and action in other nations. But we must face the painful reality that violence in our schools and communities is also a very legitimate concern with respect to national security. When 20 beautiful children and six educators and adults who worked at the school can be so easily slain in an American elementary school, that is a very real threat to national security that must be addressed with corrective action.
In addition to promoting awareness of nonviolence, it’s just possible – indeed it is absolutely critical – that we work with undaunted determination to create a sane firearms policy that makes it harder for disturbed individuals to secure weapons of mass murder. We can no longer afford to shirk this urgent responsibility.
It is also possible that American media can do some soul-searching about the glorification of violence that has now become routine in American movies, television, music and video games. Those who refuse to do so should face organized consumer boycotts. I am not talking about government censorship. But I am urging Americans to be more careful about the kinds of media we support with our consumer spending. We’ve got to invest less in the media that glorifies violence and more in entertainment that lifts up the values of love, compassion and the best in human nature.
Lastly, I would just call for a national day of prayer to promote healing for the families of the victims of violence in Newtown and the many other cities and towns which have experienced mass shootings and other forms of violence. With continued prayer and an equally-determined commitment to action for needed anti-violence reforms, let us resolve to work toward a new era in which every American child and every adult are protected from the ravages of brutality, safe and secure in our homes and schools and communities.
Bernice A. King is chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.