Believeland is Rising, But The Plague of Gun Violence Demands a Response

On June 19, 2016, our city celebrated like it was 1964. The Cleveland Cavaliers rewrote the script on our town, replacing the nickname "mistake by the lake" with "city of champions." We showed our true colors as over a million people flooded downtown, united and joyous, for the victory parade. After 50 years, Cleveland was once again a winning city.

Next week, Cleveland hosts the Republican National Convention, and again we have the opportunity to showcase our hometown to the world. Thousands of visitors will descend on Cleveland to experience all that our city has to offer. The national exposure from this event, coupled with many improvements to downtown, has even led The Chicago Tribune to declare Cleveland "a city on the rebound".

However, civic pride and the celebrated rejuvenation of our city cannot lead us to complacency, or to overlook the progress we have yet to make. At the same time that delegates from the RNC will be enjoying their stay in the new downtown Hilton Hotel, families just miles away will be struggling to put food on their tables or gain access to quality education. Many will even fear for their safety.

While the convention delegates are in town, I hope they will consider the 134 Clevelanders who lost their lives to gun violence last year, according to a study by Cleveland Magazine. This number overlooks those whose lives were changed forever as a result of an injury or psychological trauma caused by gun violence. In Cuyahoga County, the death toll jumps to 205.

Looking beyond Cleveland, we see gun violence continuing to destroy families and communities across our country. Last week alone, we witnessed three gun-related incidents that rocked our nation. Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot and killed by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In what he saw as retaliation for these incidents, Micah Xavier Johnson shot and killed five Dallas police officers, and injured six others. These tragedies have left Americans wondering: when will this violence stop?

As many know all too well, this kind of violence is nothing new. In 2016 alone, we are on pace for 33,000 Americans to lose their lives as a result of gun violence. Communities just like ours will be torn apart by this preventable issue. Following the worst mass shooting in United States history at Pulse club in Orlando, President Obama said "to actively do nothing is a decision as well". It was the 15th time during his term that he gave such a speech. No matter our political leanings or beliefs, we must all come together to do something about gun violence in our communities. To do nothing, in the face of this, is to choose to accept the frequent killing of Americans.

There are straightforward steps we can take locally and nationally to reduce gun violence. In the Cleveland area, I have worked with my Reform Jewish congregation -- Temple Emanu El in Orange Village -- through the interfaith group Greater Cleveland Congregations to advocate for investment in the growing field of smart gun technology and to clean up gun distribution practices.

Nationally, there are any number of common sense reforms we could make. Universal background check laws, closing the "terror loophole", and limits on ammunition sales can all begin to fix this issue. These are common sense actions we can take to curb the scourge of gun violence in America. None of these proposals will save every single life. However, if we are able to save even a few lives, shouldn't we at least try?

Cleveland is on the rise. From Progressive Field to Uptown, the vibrancy with which the city now shines is apparent. However, we have a responsibility to not let this light blind us to the change we must make in order to better our community.

As we continue to celebrate the Cleveland Cavaliers' championship and welcome in the Republican National Convention next week, let us not forget the work that is yet to be done.

Jeremy Cronig is the immediate past president of the NFTY - The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, an affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism. He lives in Shaker Heights and will begin his studies at The Ohio State University this fall.