As so-called gun violence plagues so many of our cities, it’s not unusual for someone to want to do something. Hell, it’s commendable, even. Most just sit there and shake their heads at the problems or try to figure out how to get away from it. Yet in every community, there are those who want to face the problem and make it go away.
Again, that’s commendable.
However, there are ways to accomplish such goals and ways that may feel good but aren’t really going to do much. For example, a 150-mile march is probably going to have less impact than you might think.
Philadelphia activist Jamal Johnson started marching to Washington five years ago, after a police officer killed David Jones in North Philadelphia by shooting him twice in the back. Johnson’s goal each time he marched the 150 miles was to demand the passage of police reform legislation.
On Monday in Center City, Johnson began the first leg of his fifth “Stop Killing Us” march to the nation’s capital. But this year is different.
Philadelphia, like many major cities, is in the midst of a violence crisis that has left 324 people dead this year, more than were killed in all of 2017. And Johnson gained new visibility earlier this year by parking a chair outside Philadelphia City Hall in the dead of winter and embarking on a hunger strike with the goal of getting Mayor Jim Kenney to take bold action to stem the tide of shootings.
So this year’s march has dual purposes: to urge lawmakers to pass police reform legislation and to ask members of the Congressional Black Caucus to advocate for new federal resources to slow the flow of illegal guns into the city.
“This is not just a local thing,” he said. “That’s why I’m taking this to D.C.”
Yet he’s done this four other times and accomplished…what, exactly?
And now, while there’s a “gun violence” issue, Johnson thinks tacking that one will change things?
Look, these are serious problems we’re talking about here. They require serious discussion and hard work to address them. And yeah, if police brutality is an issue, then legislation is probably needed. However, going for a fairly long walk isn’t really going to accomplish a whole lot.
The thing is, Johnson’s MO is to make a spectacle of himself in hopes that someone will listen. The thing is, it doesn’t take much to make someone like that go away. You let them talk for a bit, thank them for their input, then they go away and the bad press is at an end.
But there’s nothing you need to do to actually address the problems. Not really.
That’s because activists who rely on stunts are all about the attention. While others are trying to do things on the ground where stuff actually happens, people like Johnson make these grand displays.
Now, that’s not to say they can never do any good. When people don’t realize there’s a problem, such displays can raise awareness of an issue, thus facilitating a discussion on how to address that problem. Yet people know about this stuff. This isn’t new. Johnson isn’t raising awareness because everyone knows about it.
He’s just grabbing attention, rather than actually rolling up his sleeves and getting to work.