Crickets and bells could be heard outside of Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn. It’s 4 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. Students and activists, clad in black, began to slowly gather on the sidewalk as they waited for their charter bus to Washington, D.C last week.
The National #EndGunViolence Rally on Capitol Hill was held on Sept. 25, 2019. The group of mostly black and brown faces, from either Brownsville or surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn, wore black in solidarity for those who lost their lives from gun violence. Orange on their signs represent anti-gun violence awareness.
In the spotlights from the building, people looked mostly contemplative and sleepy. Brooklyn Borough President (BP) Eric Adams, also in black and sporting the trademark #EndGunViolence T-shirt, was already at the helm answering questions from the press.
The Brownsville mass shooting at the Old Timer’s Festival in Brooklyn this summer, resulting in one dead and 11 injured, was just one of the many shootings in 2019 that inspired the rally. As of Oct. 17, Kyle Williams, a 20-year-old Brownsville resident, was arrested and confessed to the shooting.
From October 2018 to this October, statistics from the City of New York Police Department indicate that within the main precincts that service Brownsville, namely the 73rd and 67th, there have been 49 shooting incidents in total. Collectively, New York City in the last few decades has had a significant decrease in general gun violence and crime, but it has yet to abolish it.
Borough President Adams credits three students in his employ from CUNY’s City Tech and Brooklyn College that introduced the initiative to him and his office. Hercules Reid, Kevin Ferguson, and Brianna Suggs, pushed for Brooklyn to be apart of the larger, national conversation about gun violence and legislation; echoing efforts from representative of their district Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. “We want to utilize today as an opportunity to spread a message to end gun violence,” said Hercules Reid, Assistant to the Deputy Borough President & Community Coordinator.
Before the break of dawn the bus began it’s journey south. They head onward into an annoying bout of traffic and then to the House Judiciary Committee meeting led by Congressman Jerry Nadler at the Rayburn House Office building in the capital.
The hearing on banning assault weapons began at 10 a.m. According to congressional records, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019 was introduced to the House of Representatives back in January. The ban is meant to regulate semiautomatic pistols, rifles, and shotguns with large capacity rounds. The ban was updated in February, but has not passed into law yet.
The House Judiciary Committee is also working on accompanying bills called the Keep Americans Safe Act, which makes it a criminal offense to buy and sell large capacity magazines; and the Freedom From Assault Weapons Act, which takes automatic weapons and ammunition out of current circulation.
In opposition to the ban, Amy Swearer, Senior Legal Policy Analyst for Heritage Foundation, said that legislation against “law-abiding” gun owners is counterproductive. “Just last week,” said Swearer during the hearing, “a homeowner in Rockdale County, Georgia relied on his scary-looking semi-automatic assault weapon to defend himself against three masked teens, armed with at least one handgun who tried to rob him and other residents in their own front yard.” She maintains that assault weapons for citizens used in defense of life should be protected.
“That’s not necessarily true,” said Jasmeet Sidhu, a lead researcher for Amnesty International, in response to the claim that gun control laws wouldn’t work.”It’s not proven, it’s actually a misnomer.” The report she worked on, named “In the Line of Fire: Human Rights and The U.S Gun Violence Crisis,” was published last year. It states that the government should enforce standards for guns to prevent them from being used by private individuals to abuse human rights.
Most recorded mass shootings do use “conventional firearms” stated the report, but high-profiled mass shootings that use assault weapons; in recent years have garnered attention of lawmakers and the public once again. Assault weapons were once banned in the U.S from 1994 to 2004.
The report also points out that gun violence and homicides disproportionately affect minority communities and young black men because of imprecise terms like “gang activity.” The historical socio-economic and discriminatory factors at play further complicate the issue.
“We don’t classify mass shootings, if a gang member is involved. So you’re basically stating those shootings that take place in the cities of America are not considered mass shootings,” said Borough President Adams, “In that case you would never have a mass shooting classification in the communities of color.”
The actual rally was held on the west-lawn of the Capitol Hill, overlooking the obelisk and reflecting pool in the far distance and the grander-than-life Capitol Building looming just behind the podium.
The people sing songs and chant phrases like “Ditch Mitch” or “Do Your Job” in the hot, bright afternoon sun. They’re referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hesitating to pass gun control laws. “If I were him I would hope not to make decisions based on party lines,” said Sidhu, who also attended the rally.
There members of Congress, Senator Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, celebrity rapper Common, and countless young witnesses to gun violence cry out against the current administration.
Other states represented in the crowds of protestors included Chicago, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia. They showed up by the dozens in T-shirts emblazoned with white logos that read #EndGunViolence. Some holding photocopies of their loved ones, friends, or neighbors that have been victims of gun fire.
They demand change.
While I’m trying to get an education,
The nation is held by anticipation.
We hold our breaths,
Wondering what the duration
Of time it will be
Before another maniac with a gun steps forward,
And America puts one foot toward
Becoming a place where this is normal.
I’m not trying to take your weapons,
I’m just trying to step in
Weigh in my opinion
Even when some say it’s not my dominion
I have a right to my opinion
So tell the alt-right,
The NRA’s minions,
I know the constitution
That makes up our democracy,
But I hoped you had the common decency
To put down verbal attacks
And put a stop to the hypocrisy.
How many kids must have
Red roses bloom through their chest
Before you realize
That change must be made soon
There’s no time to rest
It’s not enough
To just place an arrest
On a single gunman,
We need revolution and leaders
Like Hamilton, like Harriet Tubman.
We need change now
To make the list of dead kids count.
Because if not,
Us kids will grow and take our shot
Not with a gun, but with a vote
When we grow
You’ll no longer see our voices as remote.
–By Oluwaseun Showumni, currently a sophomore at Towson University. Born in NY, raised in MD, written when she was 17 in response to school shootings.