Women’s March co-president Tamika Mallory – ‘The history between the African American community and the communities of color and the NRA is non-existent, as far as I’m concerned’
On Friday, the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington will lead a protest outside the headquarters of the National Rifle Association in Virginia, followed by a 17-mile march to the Department of Justice in Washington.
The protest comes in the wake of a fear-mongering NRA recruitment video that accused the media of trying to “assassinate real news” and portrayed protest marches as violent threats against America.
“The only way we save our country and our freedom is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth,” NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch said in the ad.
Though the NRA touts itself as “the oldest civil rights organization in America”, Women’s March co-president Tamika Mallory said in an open letter released in response to the ad that it was a “direct endorsement of violence” against protesters. She also called on NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre to retract the ad and apologize. He has not done so.
On Wednesday, when she spoke to the Guardian, Mallory was tracing the route of Friday’s march. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Before this ad came out, what was your opinion of the NRA and its relationship with African Americans and other communities of color?
The history between the African American community and the communities of color and the NRA is non-existent, as far as I’m concerned. You wouldn’t probably be able to find real organizers who are on the ground in communities who have told you that the NRA has supported them and worked with them and called them to the table for discussion about how to keep people in our communities safe.
You have mentioned the NRA’s history of fear-mongering and racist dogwhistles. How significant a role do you see this as playing in the NRA’s activism?
This organization is an organization that only supports rights, the second amendment rights, for some people – oftentimes white gun owners – and it does not represent nor support nor protect the rights of people of color.
You told the NRA that as a civil rights organization it should have championed the case of Philando Castile, an African American who was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop seconds after telling the officer he had a legally owned gun. Were there other times you think the NRA failed to act?
We saw the same thing in the John Crawford case. This gentleman was shot to death in a Walmart [in Ohio in 2014, by police officers while holding an unloaded air rifle], his life taken unnecessarily, and we did not see the NRA make a statement on behalf of John Crawford.
I also would say, look at how they utilize their gun lobby, their lobbyists and the power they have over elected officials: it is to block things that urban communities need. We need to ensure that background checks are in place in different counties and states across this country, because people in Chicago, where there were 102 people shot on this recent Fourth of July holiday weekend, they don’t make guns, but someone’s guns are making into the hands of those people illegally.
We need to ensure that there are sensible gun laws in this country that will protect most people and really keep our communities safe, and the NRA has done everything to stop that.
In a CNN panel discussion that you joined with Dana Loesch, she finally addressed the Castile case – the first official response from a spokesperson for NRA leadership. What did you think of Loesch saying she did not think Castile should have lost his life over a traffic stop, and that “there were a lot of things that I wish would have been done differently”?
Dana Loesch realized that the world was watching to see what [the NRA] response would be. I think she was forced to say something. It still has not been backed up by any real strong messaging and there has been no campaign, there’s been no advocacy … we saw the ad inciting violence against protesters. We haven’t seen an ad from them with Philando Castile’s face on it, calling for a federal indictment of the officer who shot and killed him unnecessarily.
You’ve worked on gun violence prevention advocacy before, including supporting a strategy for New York City. What does that approach look like?
We worked to secure funding for grassroots organizations doing real violence interruption work on the ground. We believe that to try to fight violence with more violence, by bringing more police into a community where there are not necessarily jobs, where poverty is a real issue, where healthcare is a real issue, where mental health services are not available – where all of these social concerns are sort of intersecting, to bring in more police is to ignore the fact that there must be a plan in place to actually provide people with basic human rights.
We were able to secure $5m to begin with and those resources are up to more than $20m that is being distributed to grass roots organizations. It’s been some of the safest years ever, these last years in New York. Law enforcement is not the answer alone. There also has to be an investment in people power, people who are credible messengers.
What would a true start to fixing gun violence in America look like?
That’s a much deeper conversation that we would have to have. I don’t think you can solve the issue of gun violence in this country by passing a few laws or even just distributing funds to certain groups. There has to be a holistic approach. One thing I would say: we have to classify gun violence as a public health crisis in this country. That is the place where we need to start.
Gun violence affects many different groups of Americans: young people of color growing up in neighborhoods that have been long burdened with violence, white gun owners in rural states with high rates of gun suicide, survivors of domestic violence, victims of random shootings. Is the gun violence prevention movement sufficiently intersectional, to represent all such groups?
I think it hasn’t been intersectional enough. The Women’s March, that was one of our strengths. We want to be able to do the same thing with this particular movement. We understand that there’s a difference between having a march where 5 million people across the world come out to express their concern [and this]. There is something different about getting people’s minds and actions wrapped around actual movement work.
This is where the hard work begins.
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