Washington – Today, the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force including Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Mike Thompson (CA-05), Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (FL-24), and Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-22), held a forum with students from around the country, including Charlie Mirsky, 11th Grade, Spanish River High School (FL), Alfonso Calderon, 11th Grade, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (FL), Jennifer Mirbelle, 11th Grade, Miami Northwestern Senior High School (FL), Malachi Dunn, 11th Grade, Hallandale Magnet High School (FL), Ricky Pope, 11th Grade, Miami Northwestern Senior High School (FL), Devery Russell, 12th Grade, Miami Lakes Educational Center (FL), Daniel Gelillo, 12th Grade, Richard Montgomery High School (MD), and Taylore Norwood, 12th Grade, King High School (IL). Students shared their experiences with gun violence and proposals for reform.
“Young men and women across the country are marching, mobilizing and demanding action to end gun violence,” said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “It was a great honor to listen to the stories of some of these young champions, and to be inspired by their eloquence, persistence and leadership. The Congress must have as much courage as these students have shown, and fight for real action to protect our communities and ensure that no family must endure the heartbreak of gun violence.”
“Our students are leading a movement to prevent gun violence and changing the tide of public sentiment for the better. We have seen this before during the Vietnam War and I have no doubt they will change the course of history,” said Thompson. “Today, I was deeply honored to hear students from across the country tell their stories about the unspeakable violence they have faced and present their proposals for reform. We will stand up and speak out together, and we will achieve our goal of enacting policies to prevent gun violence.”
“Gun violence is a plague that is infecting our nation. No one and no place is immune to it. Shootings are now taking place in places that were once considered safe havens, like schools and churches,” said Wilson. “The issue of gun violence is like an octopus with many tentacles, each representing a different component, and it is imperative that we figure out how to address everyone one of them.”
“Students from across the country are speaking out for their lives. This generation has grown up in the midst of an epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings, and they expect Congress to work to make them safe in their schools and communities. We owe these students so much more,” said Deutch. “I’m proud to stand with my Democratic colleagues who are ready and willing to have a serious gun violence prevention debate, one that respects the Constitution and does everything necessary to keep guns out of dangerous hands. We welcome our Republican colleagues to join us to take action for gun reform now.”
Full written testimony from the students is attached and you can watch the entire forum, including over 40 members of the Task Force, by clicking here.
STATEMENT FROM DANIEL GELILLO
Good afternoon everyone. My name is Daniel Gelillo, and I am a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. Thank you for allowing me to address you today.
My involvement with the student movement pushing for an end for gun violence really began the day of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When I
heard about the shooting that afternoon in February, I was frustrated, angry, and upset. Because of that frustration, I knew action needed to be taken, and I was not going to wait around for
someone to take that action for me. The day after the shooting, I began organizing. I would end up leading a student walkout that ended up at the United States Capitol exactly one week after
the atrocities in Parkland. Students from schools all over our area rallied at the Capitol and called on our lawmakers to take legislative action to prevent another mass shooting from happening.
Ever since then I have been immersed in the issue of gun control and ending gun violence, working with my friends to organize more demonstrations, getting more students involved in the
movement, and even appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball alongside Congressman Ted Deutch.
I was frustrated and upset when I heard about the Parkland shooting. But I was not surprised. I have not been surprised or shocked at any shooting that has taken place since Parkland either.
These massacres are all too common, and we, as a nation, have become numb to them. Columbine happened one year before I was born. Sandy Hook happened when I was in seventh
grade. The Pulse Nightclub shooting happened during my sophomore year of high school.
Las Vegas, Parkland, Great Mills, Waffle House, and now Santa Fe have all happened during my senior year of high school. When events like this happen with this kind of frequency, how could
we not become numb to it?
Sabika Sheikh, the exchange student who was killed in the Santa Fe shooting just last week, was a friend of the Pakistani exchange student that's living with my family right now. She had 18
days left in the school year, just a few days until she returned home. Instead, her 17-year-old body was shipped, in a coffin, back home to Pakistan. Gun violence is reaching into our homes
and our classrooms. No one is safe.
Personally, I have gone to school in fear every single day since Sandy Hook. I fear the possibility of having to stare down the barrel of a gun--a gun that should have never gotten in to a private
citizen’s hands in the first place. I have been one of the lucky ones and have not had to experience something unthinkable like that. Not everyone has been so lucky. As the months drag
on, more and more students like myself are struck down and slaughtered like animals, all because of the easy and overwhelming access to firearms in this country.
I often wonder what it will take for substantial change to occur. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe: all of these should have been the last straw, but they were not. A rallying
chant we often use at student-led protests is “How many more?” I hope this is something Members of Congress ask themselves as well. The fate of many innocent people, particularly
students, will be decided by how and when lawmakers choose to answer that question.
There is so much that Congress could do to curb this senseless violence, yet the powers that be will not even allow this conversation to be had on the House or Senate floor. This should not be a
political issue, as anyone can be impacted by gun violence.
Bullets do not discriminate. They affect us all in the same way, whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. Why can we not put our differences aside and resolve to make our
country safe, for everyone?
This is obviously a fight that is not going to end any time soon. I know I will continue to be involved in the student movement, even as my time in high school comes to a close, and so will
many of my friends and peers. I have a younger sister and many friends that still go to school every day, in constant danger so long as military style weapons are still available and easily
accessible to private citizens. My sister and my friends deserve to not have to go to school in fear, and I will fight until that is a reality.
You should have to be personally impacted by a shooting or gun violence in order to realize that something needs to be done to stop this bloodshed. It is time to stand together as a country and
say that enough is enough. We have to act now. We owe it to those we have lost and those who can still be saved.
My generation rejects the conventional political wisdom that gun control is a lost cause. We are exhausted and heartbroken and angered by the gun violence plaguing this country.
This may be an uphill battle, but my generation will not give up.
We refuse to go to school in fear.
We refuse to watch any more of our friends, our family, and our neighbors die senseless deaths.
We will not give up.
However long it takes, we will win.
Thank you for inviting me to speak here today.
STATEMENT FROM DEVERY RUSSELL
Greetings. My name is Devery Russell. I am 18 years old and a student at Miami Lakes Education Center.
Bullets don’t have eyes.
That’s the kind of lesson those of us who live in neighborhoods where gun violence occurs on a regular basis are taught at a very young age. It means that even though I may not be a shooter’s target and don’t engage in the kind of lifestyle that could lead to me being shot, I can still very easily get hit.
I hear gunshots at least once or twice a month and on three separate occasions there have been drive-bys and shootings on my street. In one instance, the gunmen shot up a house but missed their target, wounding instead the target’s child. In another, a father was shot and killed as he was dropping off his children at their mother’s house a couple of doors down from where I live.
I remember thinking that these incidences were unfair and unnecessary, but also feeling kind of desensitized, and that makes me sad. Shootings shouldn’t happen so often that they cease to be shocking. And they definitely should not be something that teenagers and young children have to deal with every day of their lives.
There are times when I don’t feel safe, but at the same time, I try to mind my own business and not do anything that would cause someone to want to harm me.
On July 27, 2017, my friend Raheem, whom I had known since I was five years old, was gunned down and killed in front of his house. He had just graduated from high school, had two little sisters, a mother and father, a girlfriend, and a one-year-old son. His whole family was in the house when the drive-by shooting happened.
I felt really hurt at the time, and also confused, because I don’t think Raheem was in a gang or involved in anything that would make him a target. But then again, bullets do not have eyes.
I’d like to think that no one would come into my school with a gun and feel as if my campus is a safe environment for students and faculty. But we do have a lock-down procedure in place in the event of nearby gunfire. All doors are locked, windows are closed, lights are turned off, and students remain silent.
My hope for the future is that teens who have the mindset to be leaders will encourage their friends and peers to stay as far away as possible from the influence of guns, violence and any activity that could prematurely end their lives. Parents should never have to bury their children. It should always be the other way around.
Thank you for listening.
STATEMENT FROM MALACHI DUNN
Good afternoon. My name is Malachi Dunn. I am 17 years old and a junior at Hallandale Magnet High School in Broward County.
I do not live in the safest neighborhood, but I have been blessed to have not directly encountered or experienced gun violence.
That is not to say, though, that it hasn’t impacted my life.
When my mother was 14 years old, she was robbed at gunpoint while walking home one night. The gunman took her shoes and jewelry and told her to run and not look back. More than thirty years later, the fear she felt that night is still with her and has impacted the way she treats my siblings and me. I make sure I’m always alert and sometimes feel a little paranoid if I’m walking alone in an unfamiliar neighborhood—constantly looking around to make sure everything is okay.
One Sunday in April 2017, my brother Gabriel, who lives in North Miami and attends Central High School, was supposed to go to church with his best friend, Terrell. He slept through the knocks at the door when his friend came to pick him up. Soon after pulling up at another house, a hail of bullets rained down on their car. Terrell and his brother, who was involved in some bad stuff, were killed, and there but for the grace of God, my brother was not.
This tragedy brought both of us down and Gabriel was for a very long time traumatized by losing his friend and almost losing his own life. It taught us that even when you’re with someone you trust, you can be next.
I’ve also learned that the choices you make today will affect you tomorrow and tomorrow isn’t promised. It’s a shame that people my age, who should see life as full of limitless possibilities, think this way.
After Parkland, many of my classmates were afraid to go to school. For the next week or two, we were on Code Yellow. Hall movement was restricted and if you arrived without your ID you spent the day in indoor suspension. It was very chilling.
But what made matters worse were people who went on social media posting threats and even joking about school shootings. The police came after a student at my school who had made threats. A lot of people take it for granted that a shooting won’t happen at their school so they make jokes without having a clear understanding about how serious that is.
I know that the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Sandy Hook didn’t expect to lose their friends when the shootings took place at their schools. We can’t understand what they went through unless we experience it ourselves, God forbid.
I recently learned the mandate, be brave, be bold, and act now. We have to be brave and face the fact that our nation has a problem with gun violence. We have to be bold by being the solution. And we have to act now because tomorrow is not promised.
STATEMENT FROM RICKY POPE
Good afternoon. My name is Ricky Pope. I am 18 years old and a junior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School.
Violence in my community is seemingly unavoidable to the point where anticipating danger—much of it gang related—is just the norm, and worrying about being safe is just part of living in an inner city.
When I was younger, I used to love to count sheep at night to help me fall asleep. Now I lay in bed and count the shots that frequently ring out.
In middle school, I had to choose between guns or books. And although I chose books, I have been held at gunpoint by law enforcement and my friends and I have had to dodge stray bullets while walking through the neighborhood. We also have encountered dead bodies at bus stops on the walk to school. There is no yellow tape or police presence, which suggests that no one cares.
Fortunately, no one in my family has been a victim of gun violence, but I can’t say the same about the countless friends that have become statistics. I’m tired of losing friends like Tyquan Ham, with whom I went to middle school and shared pencils and dreams about the great futures we planned for ourselves.
African Americans make up just 19 percent of Miami-Dade County’s population, but more than 70 percent of the victims treated for gunshot wounds at the local hospital are black males.
Recently, several young black males from communities in my area were murdered. One of them was Kimson Green, a student who was about to be inducted into the National Honor Society. Soon after his death, his character was attacked because he was allegedly involved in a gang.
Many of my friends and acquaintances own guns and during a time when I was being bullied, I thought about getting a gun for protection. I quickly realized that once you go that route, there’s no turning back. Unfortunately, that’s not a lesson that youth who’ve chosen lives of violence have learned.
I feel lucky that my school is a safer place than my community. We do, however, have shooting drills and an emergency code system--something that inner-city kids are very familiar with.
When it hits close to home, the best thing is to hide and pray that trouble isn’t at your front door.
This is not the life I want to live. I’m privileged to have had opportunities to speak about how gun violence affects our community, but talk is cheap. I hope the conversation we have here today doesn’t fall on deaf ears, but turns into planning and then action. My life and the lives of young people all across this country depend on it.
STATEMENT FROM JENNIFER MIRBELLE
Good afternoon. My name is Jennifer Mirbelle. I am 17 years old and a junior at Miami Northwestern Senior High School.
Gun violence in my neighborhood takes place with alarming frequency, and I hear gunshots way too often. The scariest part is not knowing when or where it will happen.
My friends and classmates who live in Liberty City, and closer to danger than I do, have it even worse because the gunshots could be flying right in front of their houses, forcing them and their families to scramble to safety. Because of cramped housing conditions, it is very easy for a shooter to miss his target and hit an innocent bystander instead.
I feel unsafe because my community is unsafe. When you live in a neighborhood where you hear gunshots instead of music or laughter, you have no choice but to be afraid.
Small children are afraid to just be kids and do fun things like ride their bikes up and down the street or play in their own front yards in case someone starts shooting. That is no way to live, but when you are poor and underprivileged, moving to a safer community is not an option, no matter how badly you may want it.
Some of the gun violence is gang related and I have known many students who’ve been pressured to join gangs. The people who give in usually do not have positive role models or are not part of a caring family, so they turn to the street for the love and attention that they don’t get at home.
Some children are actually groomed to become gang members because that is part of their family culture. For others, joining happens by force rather than choice.
The gun violence experienced by the Stoneman Douglas students happened on their campus, but we don’t worry about someone coming to our school with a gun. In fact, when we were planning a walkout to mourn a classmate who’d been shot to death, someone suggested that we lock ourselves inside the school to demonstrate how the building is more of a refuge for us than the neighborhoods we live in, where gun violence is an everyday occurrence. I think that would have sent an extremely powerful message about how it’s what happens outside of school that we fear most.
Still, on too many Mondays, I have returned to class to find that yet another student life has been taken. And it has happened so many times that I feel like I’m growing immune to the shock and the pain.
In a media interview after four boys from our school were shot while sitting on a porch in the middle of the afternoon, Rockelle Noel, a freshman, said, “The only thing that the streets soak up more than our blood is our tears, and we are tired of crying.”
Her words could not ring truer, and it is time to do something about the condition of the world we are living in. When kids are crying out to feel safe, adults should listen and more important—do something.
STATEMENT FROM TAYLORE NORWOOD
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Taylore Norwood. I’m an 18-year-old student at King High School in Chicago, Illinois, and a member of a youth-led collective of Chicago and Baltimore students called Good Kids Mad City.
I come to you all with a heavy heart today because we are faced with more horrific tragedies that happened over these past few weeks that no young person should experience. My love and support goes out to the students and families at Mount Zion High School in Georgia, where they experienced a shooting after their graduation. This happened on the same day as the school shooting at the Santa Fe high school in Texas, where 8 students and 2 teachers lost their lives and 13 were injured. They also have my love and support.
The brave students of Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School rallied millions of students across this country to stand against the gun violence happening in sacred spaces--our schools, our place to build relationships and bonds, a place where our learning and growth should be the only concerns we have!
Twenty-two shootings have happened at schools this year and that is one to many!
When you ask students what safety looks like, most will tell you it’s school. I’m not sure we can still say that, not when male teens can easily obtain guns and shoot up schools instead of working through their issues and going through restorative justice.
Not only are guns easily accessible, young males learn in America that violence is an acceptable way to express their fear, anger and frustrations. Toxic masculinity has to be dealt with in addition to stricter gun laws in order to protect us from this continued violence. I want common-sense gun laws, but I also know we have to fundamentally figure out how to educate boys to be empathetic and value life and change America’s violent culture.
But I also have very specific demands concerning my beloved city. Just this weekend in Chicago, 17 people were shot. Where’s the national outcry for justice for them? What is Congress doing to save the lives of children in Chicago and Baltimore?
Do Black Lives Matter in America?
In 2016, close to 800 young people were killed from gun violence, and last year more than 600.
We call ourselves Good Kids Mad City because we believe most of us are good and want to have loving, meaningful lives, but we live in bad cities that don’t care about us.
Who’s going to step up to save our lives? Donald Trump isn’t. His answer was to send in the feds. He wants to further criminalize black and brown youth and I’m sure he only cares if we’re dead or in jail.
That isn’t what we want.
We don’t want more prisons and police. Safety for us doesn’t involve police and metal detectors in our schools. We know filling up prisons won’t stop the violence in our communities. That’s what has hurt our communities and helped to fuel the gun violence.
If we are going to prevent gun violence in cities like Chicago and Baltimore, we need resources and restoration.
D.C., you gave us a mayor who cares more about profit than our communities. Rahm Emanuel has closed schools and mental health clinics, which has contributed to the gun violence in our neighborhoods.
And we have a governor who’s cut funding for social services and crucial community organizations that helped to reduce gun violence. We need legislation that’s going to support community revitalization and implement restorative justice. We need elected officials to vote for bills that have federal jurisdiction to prevent guns coming into Illinois from states with lax gun laws.
If we care about the children and teens in Chicago and Baltimore, then we will make sure that money is invested in community centers, mental health clinics and trauma-informed schools. In Illinois we spend more locking up children in juvenile detention centers than we do for them to go to schools in low-income neighborhoods.
On the West Side of Chicago, which has some of the highest rates of gun violence, Rahm Emanuel wants to spend $95 million on a police academy instead of investing it in developing our communities and creating jobs for youth.
Our experiences are different. We have to deal with racism and oppression and we are tired of not being valued and being criminalized and treated like we are not worthy to breath in this country.
If you truly care about us, you would be doing all you can to save our lives and understand that the violence we experience can be prevented if we have fewer prisons and police, and more investment in our education and communities.