Students Demand Action, a division of Everytown for Gun Safety, and the American Civil Liberties Union hosted a discussion on the impact of gun violence on communities of color. About 30 students and professors attended the event on Friday evening at Annenberg Auditorium.
Nursing junior Grace Bontrager, co-leader of the Students Demand Action at the University of Michigan, said she formed the group after the Parkland school shooting in 2018.
Bontrager said their group was the first SDA to start on a university campus.
“I wanted a concrete way to get involved in gun violence prevention in my community,” Bontrager said. “It’s a lofty goal but essentially (SDA) wants to end gun violence in America by working with everyone in the country and the 300+ SDA groups across the nation. Our three main pillars of what we do here are education by talking about the issue, policy, legislative work and community work.”
The conversation began with the three panel members introducing themselves and sharing the impact gun violence has had on their lives.
University alum Benjamin Hester, a representative of Solomon Rajput’s campaign for Congress, spoke about the recent loss of his teenage cousin. Hester said his cousin wasn’t a part of any gangs and did not possess firearms but was leaving school when an altercation occurred.
“It’s something that I’ve been thinking about and working through, and it just never really makes sense to me to be angry at some 20-year-old running around trying to play gangster because he didn’t feel like there was anything else or that there was another life that he would have wanted to live,” Hester said. “I’m just sad that everyone involved lost their life. I’m just sad that we can’t do anything about it. I’m sad that there are things that we could do about it and it’s a matter of ‘want’ and not ‘can.’”
Everytown Survivor Network fellow Gwendolyn La Croix spoke about losing her son to gun violence and the disproportionate blame placed on Black Americans in the court system.
“My son Jonah killed himself with an unsecured firearm when he was 17 years old,” La Croix said. “My son was African American and I have done research since he died of who is blamed when a child dies from a gun injury and disproportionately it seems that Black Americans are arrested.
Ypsilanti City Councilmember Anthony Morgan spoke about the prevalence of gun violence in his life and what he said is a lack of police involvement during shootouts. Though he has seen a lot of guns in his life, Morgan said he has never seen a receipt for one or any sort of registration.
“I’ve been shot in the back of my leg by my foster brother,” Morgan said. “I’ve been in four or five or six different shootouts and when you’ve been to shootouts, nobody I have ever known while growing up has ever had a registered weapon, so they’ve just got guns. And you shoot, you shoot at people and you try not to get shot, and there’s never been a police report. I’ve been in two school shootings. Guns were just a part of life, actually to not have one was the stupidest thing you could do.”
Hester spoke about community policing, describing people known as “interrupters,” a concept he learned about through a documentary. According to Hester, interrupters work to settle conflicts between communities without escalating violence.
“I think (community policing) really is the future,” Hester said. “I think that we need to let the people who live in the communities determine the best ways to keep themselves safe.”
Morgan said people are already aware of atrocities committed against people of color. He emphasized that detection and prevention are two separate tasks. Now that the problem has been detected, Morgan said, society needs to move on to the prevention part.
“I think people need to stop lying to themselves,” Morgan said. “We’re very aware. I believe credible, thoughtful, educated people that don’t look like me need to make an educated appeal to the United Nations based on the universal declaration of independence for the crimes against humanity for people that look like me. We need policy.”
LSA freshman Anna Rogers said it is important to have panels like this to discuss things often left unsaid when addressing gun violence and its impact on different communities in America.
“I think this topic is really hard to talk about, which makes it even more important to talk about,” Rogers said. “There is so much that goes unsaid in the media about gun violence and the disproportionate impact it has on communities of color, and it’s so prevalent today, and it needs to be talked about.”
La Croix emphasized the importance of working to establish gun laws and bring about change.
“We need to push,” La Croix said. “We need to call our senators. We need to call our congressmen. We need to call our representatives. We need to send an email every day. I frequently meet up with people who I know don’t agree with me to just remind them that my son still died and that he died needlessly. Get in people’s faces. Let them know you aren’t going away.”
Daily News Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at it firstname.lastname@example.org