White House ceremony marked by intersection of race and gun violence

“Black Americans are 10 times more likely to be victims of gun violence and homicide," said Vice President Kamala Harris.

The White House held a celebratory event at the Rose Garden on Friday, marking the creation of the first-ever Office of Gun Violence Prevention. The White House and Black leaders in attendance told theGrio that with this new historic office, the intersection of race and gun violence must be a priority.

The new office, overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris, will focus on implementing policy remedies to tackle America’s ever-constant gun violence crisis, including over a dozen executive actions and the bipartisan gun reform law passed by Congress in June 2022.

U.S. President Joe Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Representative Maxwell Frost (left), Democrat of Florida, announces the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention on Sept. 22, 2023, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

To date, there have been more than 31,000 deaths and 27,000 injuries at the hands of gun violence in the United States this year alone, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. 

Research also shows that gun violence impacts Black and other marginalized communities disproportionately and intersectionally.

“Black Americans are 10 times more likely to be victims of gun violence and homicide. Latino Americans are twice as likely,” said Vice President Harris during Friday’s White House ceremony flanked by President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., the youngest elected member of Congress who launched his 2022 campaign to end the gun violence crisis. 

Not only are hate crimes on the rise, but in some parts of the United States, a person convicted of a hate crime can still legally buy or possess a firearm.

“We need people who don’t deserve access to weapons to not have them,” Tennessee State Rep. Justin J. Pearson told theGrio while at the White House event. “This office must address the intersection of race and gun violence.”

Pearson became of national prominence after he and another Black state lawmaker, Rep. Justin Jones, were expelled from the Tennessee State House for protesting against the state’s gun laws. 

The 28-year-old lawmaker said it’s important to keep at the forefront “who is being disproportionately impacted by acts of racial terrorism and by gun violence.”

(Left to right) Tennessee state Rep. Justin J. Pearson, state Rep. Gloria Johnson, and state Rep. Justin Jones speak with members of the press after meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Oval Office April 24, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Biden met with the three state representatives known as the “Tennessee Three” to discuss ongoing efforts to ban assault weapons. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Pearson continued, “The advocacy that the White House can do at the state level and at the local level is the type of work that has to happen in order for us to get more just solutions.”

NAACP President Derrick Johnson, who also attended the White House ceremony, told theGrio that it is “absolutely important” that the Biden-Harris administration approaches the gun violence epidemic through a racial lens. 

“We’re glad to see the administration taking action under executive order to address gun violence, but also recognizing gun violence has a hate tint to it,” said Johnson. “And so as much as we can keep people safe, this administration should do all within their power to do so.”

During his remarks, President Biden championed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that Congress passed last year, which enhances background checks and provides $250 million in community violence intervention and prevention initiatives. 

However, Biden called on Congress to go beyond the bipartisan law by banning assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. “I’m not going to be quiet until we get it done,” he said.

Just before the White House gun safety event, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre held a press briefing with U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, who lost her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, to gun violence.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre listens as U.S. Representative Lucy McBath, Democrat of Georgia, speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, 2023. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Davis was shot and killed while in a car with his friends by a white gunman who complained about them playing loud music at a gas station. The 2012 shooting was believed to be racially motivated. 

While speaking to reporters, McBath said, “I was robbed of every dream that a mother holds for her child.” She added, “Nobody wants to experience what I have.”

The congresswoman praised President Biden for “taking the decisive action by declaring loudly and clearly we do not have to live this way.”

Jean-Pierre told theGrio that in addition to the work ahead for the new White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, the intersection of gun violence and race must be a priority for the administration.

“We hear stories of different brown and Black communities, rural communities, urban communities being affected by gun violence, and enough is enough,” said the Biden spokesperson.

Jean-Pierre said the new office will “help accelerate” the actions taken by the White House and Congress “so that we can get to a place where we’re not sending our kids being frightened at school because there might be gun violence at their school or going to a grocery store.” 

She added, “That’s the importance of this office – to really get to work and accelerate the work that we’ve been doing.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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