Although the New Jersey Million Mom March came to Hudson County just in time for Mother’s Day, they weren’t delivering holiday flowers, but a dire message about the dangers of gun violence in the inner city.
They brought with them a new film called “Shell Shocked,” a documentary about youth and gun violence in New Orleans. Screened in City Hall on May 1, the film offers a close-up view of the troubled relationships that often lead to the violence that takes place in many tough urban areas, like parts of Jersey City, Paterson, and Camden.
On hand to talk about the film was John Ritchie, the co-writer, director, and executive producer. He said the film took about five years to make, and examines the challenges faced in dealing with youth violence in an urban setting. With more than 300 murders a year in a city whose population is only marginally larger than Jersey City, New Orleans is considered the murder capital of America, Ritchie said. He added that emergency rooms throughout the city also report many thousands more victims of gun violence who do not die.
Carole Stiller, president of the NJ Million Mom March Chapters, said her group is traveling around the state showing the film.
“We’re supposed to show the film in Union City, too,” she said. “But that will have to be later.”
Less than an hour long, the film highlights the problems many urban areas face, from the easy availability of illegal guns to the vendetta-like mentality that fuels street violence in ever-escalating feuds between families, street gangs and others.
“Once they are on the street corner it’s too late.” – Viola Richardson
Seeking revenge, a perpetrator may not even be able to find the person they want, so they shoot a cousin or friend of their intended victim instead.
The Mom March is part of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Stiller said.
Started to get better gun regulations
The Million March Movement began with a protest against gun violence on Washington DC on Mothers’ Day in 2000. It merged with the Brady Campaign in 2002.
The Brady Campaign actually started in 1980 as Handgun Control, Inc. Jim Brady, while serving as President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, was shot on March 31, 1981 during an assassination attempt on the president. Brady suffered a serious head wound that left him partially paralyzed. He and his wife became outspoken advocates for better control of guns.
In 2001, the organization was renamed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in honor of Jim and Sarah Brady, and became deeply involved with the movement to establish what they called “sensible gun laws.”
Stiller said the Mom March brought the film to Jersey City, partly because of the strong support for gun control from Mayor Steven Fulop and his predecessor, former Mayor Jerramiah Healy, both of whom are among 950 mayors throughout the United States who support efforts to remove illegal guns from the streets.
National statistics show that one in three people in the U.S. know someone who has been shot. An average of 32 people a day are murdered with guns and 140 are treated for gunshot wounds. Suicides and accidental deaths due to guns account for about 90 deaths a day nationwide.
Problems and solutions
Ritchie said prior to showing the film that murder rates in the U.S. are monumentally higher than in nations that have strict gun controls. Statistics show that the U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries similar in wealth and population to America.
He said one of the leading Second Amendment groups in New Jersey actually called for a protest against his film.
“This makes no sense, since this is a film about gun violence in urban areas,” he said. “You would think groups like theirs would want to support efforts to end violence in the cities.”
While the documentary is about the effect gun violence is having on the youth of New Orleans, it is also a reflection of what goes on in poor urban areas, where poor kids with less than $200 can buy an assault-style weapon, and gun violence is as much a way of life as it once was in the Wild West.
Many buy guns to elevate their status, but many others buy them because they see a gun as a means of self defense. The result is often dead bodies of young people in the streets.
National statistics claim that one in every five teenagers has witnessed a shooting, that eight teens under 20 are killed by guns daily, and that firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death (after motor vehicle crashes) for young people ages 1-19 in the U.S.
“Kids get desensitized to these deaths,” Richie said.
The film interviews kids as well as community activists, exploring both the causes and the possible solutions, and shows how education as well as community and family involvement have to be key parts of the effort. The solution, Richie said, requires better communication between adults and kids, and between authorities and the community.
Former Jersey City Councilwoman Viola Richardson said local schools are also key to solving the violence problem, giving kids a boost in self-esteem and providing a better way to deal with issues that are associated with poverty. But kids must be reached early.
“Once they are on the street corner, it’s too late,” Richardson said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.