Saturday, December 12, 2015

Rev. Michael Walrond, Chair of Mayor de Blasio’s Clergy Advisory Council

Question: Gun violence seems to have taken center stage again in New York City, innocent by standers are severely at risk, in fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Aide was a victim of a stray bullet just this past Labor Day Weekend. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, what is your take on this negative societal problem?

Rev Walrond: There has for some time now has always been a rampant and pervasive presence of guns in our street. We’ve experienced times when gun violence has gone down, we’ve seen times when gun violence has escalated, but, I would say that no matter how much policies have been put forward in state legislature or the number of creative ideas we’ve put forward to minimize the presence of guns, it is just not the presence of guns that will minimize gun violence, it is a shift in cultural attitude, in cultural sensibilities about the value of human life. I think the reason for many people and particularly our young people in our city to use guns to settle issues or to recklessly take lives is because there is no value in a life. That conversation has to take place where we find creative ways to begin to undermine attempts that dehumanized the value of human beings in whatever way. And that happens by first helping people to see the inherent value of their own life, because if you don’t see no value in your life, then taking the life of another is always the first option in so many ways.  I think that one of the issues or criticism some of these creative programs will raise to reduce gun violence is because the issue on our streets is not because of legal guns but because of the use and exchange and the selling of illegal guns. Much of the policies we’ve heard, and much of the platforms that’s been established by various political candidates has talked about legalized guns, but there is still the issue of illegal guns on the street, and that is an issue right now, the way we think to deal with is through incarceration and rigid laws around gun possession and gun use, but, it has to be at the end of the day from a religious perspective a shift in attitude how we talk about people, how we talk about human life and we have to press that message to help people find another way instead of senselessly  taking the life of another person.

Question: Are you here alluding to systemic changes?

Rev Walrond: Systemic changes with regard to policy, with regard to engagements with communities, with regards to how we penalize those who use guns and who possess guns, there can be changes there, but again, I’m talking about cultural shifting and how we engage people and how we talk about it. That’s the work of the church in so many ways, that’s the role church can play. How we give language to the value of human lives, how we give dignity to human beings is the thing that we must talk about. We sometimes forget our moral perspective in the paradigm from which we operate and forget the mandate upon us with regards to valuing and talking about the values of human lives and then at the same time it takes a tremendous amount of prophetic courage, and I think that there are some of us who find it hard to engage some of these deep issues that impact communities because of the presence of fear. Fear is real. I live in Harlem and I see police towers lining Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, I hear of the random acts of violence and gun shootings, it creates a sense of terror and causes fear even in people of faith to engage many of these issues and so systemic change in terms of policy, systemic change in how we penalize or punish people because what we are doing now is creating a system …a waste land of persons who see no value in themselves. So that is one area, we have to see a change in the language we use from the pulpits and the ministries across the City, from religious leaders and to how we speak boldly to issues that impact human beings on a daily basis.

Question: What in your view, contributes to the problem of gun violence? 

Rev Walrond: There are many sociological problems that contribute to the problem, there is poverty, there is systemic oppression, I think there is structural oppression that takes place in this country and so there are many issues that go not confronted, when you think of the language of politics and how often it is taboo to talk about the poor and poverty, that says something, so definitely I think sociological issues impacts what we see in our streets. Then there are moral issues, and then morality can be manipulated by those in power.
Question: As a Religious Leader, is there a specific message you would like to share with the youths and others in society to desist from the use of weapons to solve their disagreements?

Rev Walrond: I would tell them that very often they resort to gun violence because they see no other options. I have learnt a long time ago that the contradictions of life are not final. There is always another way, there are always greater possibilities and what we have to do is present those possibilities to our young people and remind them how valuable they are, how worthy they are and that there is something hopeful for them in the future. We have stopped talking to our young people in hopeful tones. As chair of the Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council, we are beginning to help religious leaders understand their role in engaging communities and transform their ways. We have to begin again and reclaim transcendent narratives that do not seek to polarize and divide, but to unify and no better place and no better persons to do that than people of faith in our communities.

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