By Mrinal Gokhale
The issue of gun control has been controversial in the United States for years, but especially lately when two mass shootings took place this month. On Sunday, August 11, presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) discussed his experiences and solutions for gun violence at Sherman Phoenix, 3536 W. Fond Du Lac Ave.
The “Milwaukee Rise” rally was held almost three years after 23-year-old Syville Smith was shot and killed by a police officer at Sherman Park. Sherman Phoenix –previously a bank building – was burned in riots following Smith’s death. The building was rebuilt last year and currently houses multiple business such as restaurants and a barbershop.
Once doors opened at 2 p.m., the building became quickly packed with long lines of people waiting at the entrance. Many attendees held signs that read “Cory 2020” and “We Rise MKE.” News outlets from Wisconsin, New York, and New Jersey were in attendance.
Local elected leaders gave their remarks before introducing Booker. DNC elect Khary Penebaker’s support for Booker comes from losing his mother to suicide when he was just a baby. He said that he tried to take his own life the same way in 2003.
“I just sat there with a 9 mm gun in my mouth,” he said. “There have been so many lives – so many in betweens –cut short due to gun violence. Not too far from here, Dontre Hamilton’s in between was cut short by 14 bullets.”
Before becoming a U.S. senator, Booker was the mayor of Newark, NJ. He became inspired to pursue politics after witnessing neighborhood violence in his hometown.
“I got my B.A. from Harvard, but my PhD from the streets of Newark,” he said. “What that means is I finished law school and moved to Newark near an abandoned building with lots of drug use. I heard gunfire regularly. I had an idea that I’d use my law degree to make the neighborhood better.”
Like the other Democratic presidential candidates, Booker supports “common sense gun reform.” He is, however, the only candidate that introduced a plan for nationwide gun licensing if elected. Currently, 13 states plus Washington, D.C. require a permit or license to purchase a handgun.
“If you need a license to drive a car, you should have a license to own and possess a firearm,” Booker said. “It’s not an intrusion on your second amendment rights, and if you’re a law-abiding citizen, you have nothing to worry about.”
He stated that in Connecticut there has been a 40 percent decrease in gun violence and 15 percent decrease in gun related suicides as a result of requiring gun buyers to pass background checks before purchase.
Senator Latonya Johnson said she feels it’s important for a presidential candidate to understand the struggles her constituents face in one of Milwaukee’s poverty-stricken zip codes, 53206.
“I moved to 53206 when I was 12 years old, and it was the first time my family and I lived in a place with indoor plumbing,” she said. “Cory represents an area where the median income was $14,000 in 2010.”
Although Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes hasn’t publicly endorsed Booker, he feels “compassionate leadership” is lacking under the current administration.
“If we had leadership that led with the heart, we wouldn’t have children locked in cages,” he said. “We wouldn’t have an ongoing series of climate denial. We wouldn’t have the continuation of the error of mass incarceration.”
Wisconsin is one state that supported the Democratic vote for many years but then changed to supporting Trump. Booker stated that candidates that can “excite and energize” are needed to defeat Trump, but it’s about more than winning.
“We cannot make it all about him because that is what he wants,” Booker said. “Beating Donald Trump is the floor, not the ceiling. It gets us out of the valley but not to the mountain top. I’m all about the mountaintop.”