The Suffolk Journal

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American gun violence goes beyond school shootings

%28From+Left%29+Youth+activists+Bria+Smith%2C+Michael+Martinez%2C+Aalayah+Eastmond%2C+Fiona+Phie+and+Jack+Torres+discussed+how+the+conversation+surrounding+school+gun+violence+has+underscored+the+issue+of+inner-city+gun+violence+among+people+of+color
(From Left) Youth activists Bria Smith, Michael Martinez, Aalayah Eastmond, Fiona Phie and Jack Torres discussed how the conversation surrounding school gun violence has underscored the issue of inner-city gun violence among people of color

(From Left) Youth activists Bria Smith, Michael Martinez, Aalayah Eastmond, Fiona Phie and Jack Torres discussed how the conversation surrounding school gun violence has underscored the issue of inner-city gun violence among people of color

Caroline Enos/ Journal Staff

Caroline Enos/ Journal Staff

(From Left) Youth activists Bria Smith, Michael Martinez, Aalayah Eastmond, Fiona Phie and Jack Torres discussed how the conversation surrounding school gun violence has underscored the issue of inner-city gun violence among people of color

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For six student activists on a gun violence prevention panel sponsored by March For Our Lives: Boston at the Cutler Majestic Theater Oct. 30, gun violence is a systemic threat that goes beyond school shootings.

“On Feb. 14, I was in the third classroom the shooter shot into,” said panelist Aalayah Eastmond, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. “He shot six of my classmates and murdered two: Nicholas Dworet and Helena Ramsay. I had to hide underneath Nicholas’s body to be here today.”

Eastmond is a leader at Team Enough and March For Our Lives and testified at Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings in Washington last month against Kavanaugh for his opposition to gun control. She became a voice for victims of gun violence in schools and inner cities after the Parkland shooting as well as losing her uncle, Patrick Edwards, 15 years ago to gun violence in Brooklyn.

“I didn’t go to [the Kavanaugh hearings] just to share my story on Feb. 14,” said Eastmond. “I went to be a face and a voice for people that look like me.”

“The communities that are most affected by gun violence are the ones that are the most underfunded in terms of education, opportunities outside of the classroom and when it comes to job opportunities,” said Martinez. “They know that the only way to get power, because of gun culture in America, is by getting their hands on a gun.””

— Michael Martinez

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 81 percent of firearm homicides in 2015 occured in urban areas. The CDC also showed that black Americans are, on average, eight times more likely to be killed by firearms in cities than white Americans.

To panelist Michael Martinez, a senior at Weston High School who lives in Roxbury and organizer of March For Our Lives: Boston, these trends are not a coincidence.

“The communities that are most affected by gun violence are the ones that are the most underfunded in terms of education, opportunities outside of the classroom and when it comes to job opportunities,” said Martinez. “They know that the only way to get power, because of gun culture in America, is by getting their hands on a gun.”

Panelist Bria Smith is a leader at March For Our Lives: Milwaukee. For Smith and her older siblings, metal detectors and extensive security protocols have been at her inner-city high school long before the push for them at suburban schools began.

“They are doing these things in our schools so that [students of color] have this perception of themselves that once they graduate, they’re going to be in the prison pipeline because we don’t address disparities,” said Smith. “That’s how guns, violence and apathy are getting into these communities.”

The inequalities people of color face have also spilled over into the anti-gun violence movement, as youth like Smith often are not given the platform to share their stories.

“It makes me uncomfortable when someone who is white says my story for me,” said Smith. “You have to be able to step away and let someone else speak to amplify their story.”

Jack Torres, chief political strategist at March For Our Lives: Boston and a junior at Somerville High, said that recognizing and using your privilege to give a platform to others is vital in diminishing racial inequalities.

To panel moderator Vikiana Petit-Homme, the executive director for March For Our Lives: Boston and a high school senior, people must understand that “privilege is not about what you have gone through, but what you haven’t gone through because of your skin color or your gender.”

In terms of combating gun violence, the panelists stressed that more strict legislation and better documentation of firearm purchases are needed.

“These guns are always bought somewhere legally first,” said Torres. “We have to look at… how manufacturers are buying into this, how the NRA is fueling this rhetoric by saying it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun, because they’re trying to sell two guns there.”

The panelists agreed that this issue spans beyond politics.

“Gun violence is a human rights issue and a health issue,” said Smith. “People are dying.”

Of the 47 homicides in Boston since the beginning of 2018, 40 are a result of gun violence.

Panelist Fiona Phie, chief outreach director for March For Our Lives: Boston and a student at UMass Boston, said that the most important part of discussing gun-violence statistics is remembering that these numbers represent human beings.

“When we went to Virginia to protest the NRA, a man said to me that [a bill on gun restrictions] would only save 300 lives per year,” said Phie. “Those are people. You’re going to put the lives of 300 people at risk because you want an AR-15? That’s crazy.”

Smith added that the victims of gun violence are not only those who are shot and killed. In a study conducted by Smith and the Milwaukee Youth Council, a 4-year-old girl who had been exposed to gun violence had the same symptoms of PTSD as a 65-year-old retired veteran.

For Eastmond, the trauma from Parkland is still a daily reality.

“People need to remember that none of us asked to be activists, and none of us wanted to be activists,” she said. “This was just thrown in our laps.”

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American gun violence goes beyond school shootings