#EndGunViolence: The voices behind the hashtag

by Reyna Estrada / Sports Editor

by Amanda Landwehr / Arts & Culture Editor

by Jules Banks / Features Editor

A quilt featuring the faces of gun violence victims in Chicago.

It was 4:10 a.m., and for a time so sickeningly early to many, the riders of Bus One were wide awake. Church members, students and activists alike lingered in various states of consciousness, the bus buzzing with silent energy. These people were far from happy, and the anticipation of arriving at their final destination perhaps promised more pain than joy. 

Truthfully, these individuals were exhausted. They had seen their communities ripped apart by unnecessary violence, and they were beyond ready for real legislative change. As the sun rose over the Pennsylvania foothills at half-past 5 a.m., the promise of a new day highlighted the signs taped to the bus windows with a golden light. These banners stated the reason why this bus and its riders had traveled more than 400 hundred miles away from home with one heavy demand: “END GUN VIOLENCE.”

On Sept 24, 2019 a caravan of buses departed from Saint Sabina church with the objective of rallying for new gun legislation at the nation’s capital. Members of the Saint Sabina faith community, as well as several other groups, embarked on the 12-hour journey from South Chicago to Washington, D.C. led by Father Michael Pflegar. At 10 a.m. the following day, these individuals flooded off of the buses and onto the West Lawn of the U.S. capitol with a series of demands to U.S. government officials.

Speakers such as Chicago Rep. Robin Kelly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and rapper/activist Common took to the podium to share personal experiences and promote proposed legislation on gun control. There were three main demands: register guns in the same way that cars are registered, implement universal background checks for gun buyers, and ban all assault weapons.  

Another speaker stood at the podium, and although his name may not have been as well known, his speech sombered the crowd.

“BOOM,” The sound of Fred Guttenburg’s voice echoed across the West Lawn as he described the single bullet that severed his daughter’s spine. Guttenburg’s daughter Jaime was one of 17 individuals gunned down on Feb. 14, 2018 at the Douglas High shooting in Parkland, Florida. Amongst the various advocacy groups and peace organizations in attendance at the rally, Guttenburg was one of many parents who had lost a child to gun violence. 

In 2014, Pilsen resident Sandra Brigham’s son was shot and killed. She said that he was murdered at just 16 years old on her 40th birthday. 

“There’s nobody left in the city that hasn’t been touched in one way or another by gun violence,” she said. “I’m here exercising my right as a citizen and as a mourning mother.” 

Protesters in attendance at the Sept. 25 rally.

The city of Chicago has seen more than its fair share of gun related deaths. According to an article published by The Chicago Tribune, at least 2,101 gun deaths have been reported across the city in 2019 alone. However, this epidemic has impacted the lives of many beyond Illinois and throughout the nation. 

Nadine Sylvster traveled from Brooklyn, NY to be in attendance at the rally. Her son, Rohan Levy, was shot at 15 years old as he stood only a few feet away from their home. 

“Rohan was such an amazing child, full of laughter, really big heart. He aspired to be an architect, and he was killed going to play basketball,” Sylvster said. “Often times we hear about gun violence, it’s always ‘wrong time, wrong place.’ You can’t be at the wrong place if you’re at home.” 

Slyvester has since channeled her grief into activism work, refusing to stand idly by as other families suffered through the pain she endured. In addition to attending rallies and advocating for stricter gun regulation, she started a nonprofit called the Rohan Levy Foundation to spread awareness about gun violence by offering educational resources and support to community youth throughout Brooklyn. 

A photo of a young gun violence victim.

Diondai Brown-Whitfield came to honor her brother who had died at 29 years old due to what she described as “act of violence.” She said his death was officially classified as “natural causes,” and unsatisfied with that classification, Brown-Whitfield decided to join the crowd of citizens that demanded action from politicians to strengthen gun legislature. 

“I decided that prayer is good, marching is good, but we need to be more active in holding our legislators accountable when it comes to making the decisions,” said Brown-Whitfield. “They’re not just getting paid from public funding, they’re getting paid to represent the people, and so now we the people are speaking and saying enough is enough—it’s time for them to change and to make some more common sense gun laws, instead of dodging it.” 

Several politicians were called out by name by speakers in attendance, but none more than Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator and Senate Majority Leader. McConnell’s stance on gun legislature was under fire during the rally due to his recent comments stating that he would indeed back gun legislature—but only if President Trump agreed to it first. Additionally, McConnell has stalled action on the controversial HR8 gun control legislation bill from a Senate vote after it passed the House vote in February, bringing all legislative progress to a standstill.

“We’re waiting for Mitch McConnell to take up and pass the legislation in the senate,” said Yvette Clarke, Democratic member of the House of Representatives from New York’s 9th congressional district. “We have been waiting and waiting since February for Mitch to do the right thing and put our lives, the lives of our children, above the profits of gun manufacturers and the immoral stance of the gun lobby. The senate must do their job.” 

At the end of Clarke’s sentence, the chant “Do your job!” began to ring out from the crowd, growing louder and more vigorous as Clarke stood at the podium. Several times throughout the rally, the chant would rise again. 

A father and daughter in attendance for the Sept. 25 rally.

Many of the mourning parents in attendance also directed their anger at McConnell for his lack of action regarding the gun violence that claimed the lives of their own children. 

“What if it his child were the one, that he was having a one way conversation with? Couldn’t respond, was not able to grow up?” Slyvester said. “What if it was his kid?”

As of yet, President Donald Trump has neglected to comment on the Sept. 25 rally. Although a Quinnipiac University poll in May 2019 revealed that 61 percent of registered voters supported “stricter gun laws in the United States,” the chance that new gun legislation will pass in the senate anytime soon appears slim.

Gun violence awareness orange floods the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building.

Categories: Feature

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