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When I was growing up, there were always stories of random acts of violence here and there, or a tragic shooting that would periodically capture the headlines. But what was once a rarity has sadly transformed into some sort of normalized disturbing behavior.

Just within the last week, a Florida teen was accused of bludgeoning his parents to death and partying afterwards; while in Brooklyn, NY, an eight-year-old boy was kidnapped, killed and cut into pieces after he asked a stranger for directions. And in between all of this madness, there were countless shootings, stabbings and other incidents across the country. The culture of violence is out of control and it is colorless, ageless and doesn’t discriminate in choosing its victims.

Last week, staffers at the National Action Network (NAN) and I sat down with New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as we held an urgent meeting on the staggering rise in violence. Discussing everything from removing guns off of our streets to educating young people — to providing increased recreational activities and employment — we not only touched on the root causes of this dilemma, but also what decisive action we can all take. And earlier in the month, Rev. Sharpton and I held a similar meeting during the Essence Music Festival with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who has young folks dying daily in his city.

When we speak of violence, often times, people resort to stereotypes or dismiss the idea all together believing that it doesn’t impact them. The truth is, innocent victims sadly come in all shapes, colors, sizes, ages, income brackets and religions. The horrific incidents of the past week are validation in that alone.

In Florida, you had a seemingly normal, suburban white teenage boy who is now accused of killing his own parents; and then hosting a party while their bodies lay in an upstairs bedroom. And in the Brooklyn Hasidic Jewish community, a young boy’s dismembered body was discovered and the culprit was allegedly a member of the same faith. This is a national epidemic and it’s time we stop pretending it only takes place “over there.”

As NAN continues its push to bring this issue to the forefront, we urge everyone to do the same. Call your local elected officials, organize a rally and ask why more isn’t being done to resolve this ever-growing catastrophe. Just as labor unions organize and convene around ideas of collective bargaining, so too must we organize around the issue of our lives. We at NAN are consistently seeking new methods of combating violence, and though we may not always have the answer, we never falter in our resolve.

On August 27th, NAN will hold our annual march on Washington, D.C. honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (whose statue will also be unveiled that weekend). We call on everyone to join us as we seek new solutions to combating our most pressing challenges. If you cannot join us in Washington, commit to doing something somewhere in your community. The time for turning a blind eye is over; we must take decisive action now.

How can we sleep at night knowing our 16-year-old babies have guns in the next apartment, in the adjacent building, or hell even upstairs?! How can you call yourself a man or woman of the cloth, an educator, a Christian, a counselor, a parent or even a good person and not do anything?

What has happened to us?

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