CHICAGO – The Rev. Jesse Jackson advocated anti-violence and gun control Tuesday during his traditional Christmas Day sermon at a Chicago jail, where he challenged inmates to help get weapons off the streets.
Jackson has long been a supporter of gun control, including an assault weapons ban. He called the deadly Dec. 14 shootings at a Connecticut elementary school a tipping point for the nation when it comes to gun control.
"We've all been grieving about the violence in Newtown, Connecticut, the last few days," he told reporters after addressing inmates at the Cook County Jail. "Most of those here today ... have either shot somebody or been shot. We're recruiting them to help us stop the flow of guns ... We need their awareness of the dangers of more guns and more drugs."
The civil rights leader didn't further detail his plan to involve inmates, saying only that inmates could provide insight.
Jackson walked around the jail auditorium and shook hands with inmates before taking the stage to deliver a rousing sermon. Gospel singers and a band performed as Jackson covered a range of topics, including crime and guns. He encouraged the hundreds of inmates to get tested for HIV, register to vote and pray for forgiveness.
At one emotional point, Jackson called on inmates to get on their knees and ask for guidance to turn their lives around.
"You want to turn your jail cell into a classroom," he told them. "Turn your jail cell into a prayer closet."
Several inmates, with heads bowed, wiped away tears.
Jackson, 71, has delivered Christmas Day sermons at jails for years. He says the idea is to inspire and invest in inmates so they don't return to jail. He was joined by other Chicago pastors and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a Chicago Democrat who also supports an assault weapons ban.
Davis has attended Christmas services at jails for more than two decades.
"It's a highlight of the day," Davis said. "I leave with a renewed spirit."