From the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to the shootings that take place in Congressional District 24 every week, South Florida is clearly in the midst of a gun crisis that we cannot ignore.
I have long been a proponent of sensible gun-control measures that keep our communities safe while respecting Americans’ Second Amendment rights. In each session of Congress, I have introduced and co-sponsored legislation that would help accomplish that goal. So I am angry and dismayed by the unwillingness of lawmakers across the nation to take the steps necessary to stem these senseless acts of violence, choosing instead to put the demands of the NRA over the safety of our citizens.
I am not, however, willing to wait for others to act and am committed to doing all that I can to address the pandemic of gun violence and fear gripping my district — and the nation.
On April 5, I hosted a town hall meeting on this issue during which children shared accounts about gun violence’s adverse impact on their lives. As I noted that night, it was the first of a series of such events that I plan to hold.
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At some schools, children are forced to decide not whether to join a gang, but which gang they will join. They are afraid to walk home from school because they don’t want to be targeted.
In an effort to make our schools safe havens again, I am working with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina to address the role that gangs play in gun violence. A group of community ministers, led by Pastor Carl Johnson and Pastor Larrie Lovett, also is part of our team.
Gangs have an oversized presence in both homes and schools. Recently, this deadly combination led to the deaths two Northwestern Senior High students and sent two others to the hospital.
So in addition to requesting that a specialist in gang violence be embedded in our police departments, I also have begun what will be a series of discussions with Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg about strategies to address gang and gun violence in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. In May, I plan to convene a meeting with key stakeholders from our local police departments, the U.S. and state attorney offices, elected officials, and education leaders, including Broward and Miami-Dade school superintendents.
We’ve just seen the anniversaries of two tragic events: 11 years since the mass shooting at Virginia Tech University that killed 33 people and 22 years since two teenage shooters killed 13 students and injured dozens of others at Columbine High School. After each of these tragedies, we wrung our hands and said, “Never again.”
Not good enough.
Since 1999, there have been shootings at 193 schools, 10 per year on average. Children of color represent 63% of students who’ve been exposed to gun violence at school. Eleven years after the Virginia Tech shooting, 300 kids in Miami have lost their lives to gun violence. In a one-year period, 8,280 shots were fired in Liberty City, Little Haiti and Overtown.
I have met with young people imprisoned for killing someone, and each one has said that their lives would have taken a different path if they’d had a parent, a mentor — any caring adult — to steer them in the right direction. Are we spending our resources to target the most at-risk in our population — black boys? In addition to partnering with local law enforcement and Department of Justice officials, I am committed to working with community organizations, elected officials, pastors, students and mentors to not just talk, but take meaningful action.
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, represents Florida’s 24th Congressional District in Miami and Broward counties.