ST. LOUIS – The Rev. Jesse Jackson sat down exclusively with Fox2 Sunday before a Black History Month forum hosted by the St. Louis Public Library and addressed the fatal shootings in South Florida, his native Chicago and across the country.
At a rally in Parkland, Florida, a student expressed outrage after last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"Because of the systematic failure of our government on every level, people are dying every day.”
North St. Louis resident Philip White warns his kids to stay vigilant as they head to school.
"Every day they walk out the door, I worry," he shook his head. "I do."
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, Sr. joined others in calling for stricter gun laws.
"There is no function for assault weapons, except to kill people," he said. "You can’t hunt rabbit or elk or deer with an assault rifle."
Before Jackson appeared at two Sunday-afternoon appearances at Downtown's Christ Church Cathedral, visitors submitted questions. He offered his take on voting rights and social equality. In the heart of St. Louis – a city that saw 205 murders in 2017 -- he also weighed in on deadly gun crimes.
"In Chicago in the last five years, 166 children under the age of 17 have been killed."
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at the same cathedral more than fifty years before. Jackson watched as King died in Memphis in 1968, also from gun violence.
"A million Americans have been killed by gunshots, since he was killed."
At the forum, he warned against qualifying gun death by the geography of the crime or the race or income of the victim. He mentioned Illinois cities dealing with daily gun violence as being on par with quieter towns like Newtown, Connecticut where 20 first-graders and 6 adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.
"If it is an innocent in Chicago or East St. Louis they have a problem. If it's Sandy Hook or Parkland, Florida, we have a problem. Well, all of us have a problem when people cannot go to school or go to church. None of us is safe until all of us is safe."
Jackson urged Marjory Stoneman students to remember that they earn a new tool, along with their senior year.
"They not only can speak up and march. They can also register and vote for people who have enough courage to ban assault weapons."
In this week's rallies in Parkland, Jackson sees hope.
"It's amazing to see young Americans fight back."