Orange is the New Black 

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Here we are in Memphis, where orange is the new black.

Last Thursday, hundreds of people in Memphis, and thousands more around the country, wore orange to honor shooting victims as part of "National Gun Violence Awareness Day." Mayor Jim Strickland joined with District Attorney Amy Weirich, state Senator Lee Harris, mothers of two victims, and a couple of hundred citizens at downtown's Loflin Yard. They spoke of organizing the community against violence; they named and mourned several recent victims, including 18-year-old Myneishia Johnson, who was gunned down in a random drive-by shooting in downtown Memphis in mid-May.

The Commercial Appeal published an inspirational picture of the group in the next day's paper: black folks, white folks, orange T-shirts, orange ties, orange signs reading "We Can Stop Gun Violence." Big smiles, big hopes.

Two days later, on Saturday night, another random shooter terrorized downtown, wounding three people, stealing a car, speeding through the streets of Memphis, and tragically ending the life of one of Memphis' finest men in blue, Officer Verdell Smith.

In 48 hours, the orange T-shirts of hope were changed to the black clothes of mourning.

Strickland held a press conference Monday and said, among other things: "The police department cannot anticipate when somebody is going to pull a trigger. What makes somebody pull that trigger? It's their lifetime of history. If we can intervene in the lives of more young people through constructive things when they're not in school, that's the true long-term solution to crime." All of which is true.

A couple of reporters, however, demanded to know how the mayor was going to "protect" the citizens, and wondered what "bold action" he was going to take.

I hate to break it to these folks, but this isn't Gotham City and there is no single bold action the mayor can take to protect us from every troubled, angry, mentally disturbed young man with a gun. The recent shootings downtown were not robberies, muggings, or premeditated assaults on targeted victims. They were random and senseless acts of violence.

There are 300 million genies out of the bottle in America. Thanks to the NRA and their friends in our government, guns are everywhere and easy to get. No legislation can make a dent in that number in our lifetimes. Just as Baghdad has had to learn to deal with market bombings every few weeks, America has to learn to deal with senseless gun rampages.

There's no single, sexy bold action that will fix gun violence, only a thousand small steps, made by thousands of people working together. So let's hire more cops. Let's get more communities engaged in policing their neighborhoods. Let's find more programs to reach out to disengaged, impoverished youth. Let's improve our education system. Let's raise the minimum wage and fix our public transportation system so that those without cars can get to jobs more easily. Let's make it easier to expunge criminal records, so more folks can get a second chance to overcome youthful stupidity. Let's get more churches involved in doing the real Lord's work in this city, rather than building palaces for preachers.

On Friday, the day after the gathering at Loflin Yard and the day before Saturday night's violence, a major corporation, ServiceMaster, announced that it was moving its headquarters into downtown Memphis. It was great news and an important development for the city.

Even when tragedy strikes, it is important to keep things in perspective, to remember that all is not lost. Horrible things happen. Great things happen. Senseless things happen. It's the life we are given, all of us: The good. The bad. The orange. The black.

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    • Ditto.

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