Everybody Has a Right to Live

Everybody Has a Right to Live

By Siegrid Raible

I spent the afternoon of April 19, 2018, with a couple of hundred young people at a rally in Washington Square Park sponsored by NYC Says Enough where students and others spoke to the need to putting an end to gun violence. The event was organized as part of the enough-is-enough movement to commemorate and honor the thirteen lives lost to two gun-toting students at Colorado’s Columbine High School nineteen years ago. But whether it’s one-on-one or mass shooting events or whether a shooting is committed by the authorities or one of our neighbors, the crime directly impacts families and ripples through communities. I was struck by one 11 year old Harlemite who told of his fears of being struck by a bullet on his way to school.

I think back to my childhood and my worst fear as an eleven year old going to school was whether I would encounter our neighborhood tough guys; would they hurl degrading taunts at what we now call nerds or if you happened to be a girl, would you be subjected to catcalls and whistles. But I never ever thought about being shot either by a policeman or by someone in the neighborhood. How did we arrive at this moment and what can be done?

A few days following the rally, I attended a panel discussion sponsored by NYC Downtown Women for Change on the issue of gun violence, its impact on women, families and communities and what we can do to put an end to it. An activist and co-founder of the organization Protect Our Stolen Treasures (POST), Yolanda McNair, talked about the loss of her daughter to gun violence. This Chicago grandmother talked about her daughter, who on the day before her 25th birthday, was shot and killed by a police officer. Unanswered questions remain as to how her daughter died. She argues that where police officers are the agents of gun violence, they must be held accountable. Her prescription: if you sense something is wrong, speak up, and do not accept condolences or listen to those who tell you to “move on” since nothing can be done. She counsels and provides support to those family members who seek answers to questions surrounding gun violence because, as she puts it, life is to be respected and death requires responsibility.

Another panelist, Monica Montgomery, the founder and director of the Museum of Impact, discussed action through art. She calls herself an upstander – someone who stands up, speaks up and acts up for the creation of a community of care. She argues that art speaks to an issue; it humanizes events where statistics cannot. She brought to the meeting six photographs by an artist photographer who tried to imagine what the victims would have seen as they lie dying. The outline of the body encountered at a crime scene is brought to life; it humanizes a life’s untimely encounter with death.

Both women spoke to accountability. Where gun violence leads to the loss of life, we must attach accountability. I am grateful to these women for their activism and their desire to motivate others in their effort to put an end to our culture of gun violence and to put in its place a culture of care. Their challenge to those present: get involved … become an upstander in your community.

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