“My story is not unique. It’s that of nearly every teen in America,” said high school student Anna Saal. “We grow up in this environment of violence and watch it grow exponentially and we have been instructed to hide under desks and tables because apparently, to get an education, we have to put our lives in danger.”
The shootings in El Paso and Dayton necessitated yet another vigil in memory of the victims here in Rhode Island. As has become routine now, there were calls for more action in Washington, to prevent these kinds of attacks. The Vigil for Change was held in Armory Park in Providence, and was attended by people from across our state.
Allow me to present the video of the event slightly out of order and give you the words of high school freshman Anna Saal, who has grown up in our present culture of unrestrained gun violence:
“On January 8, 2011, I was 6 years old and living in Flagstaff, Arizona,” said Saal. “Elsewhere in my state a Tucson constituent meeting was being held in a Safeway parking lot. I was too young to fully understand what happened that day, but what I do remember is my parents glued to the TV, waiting for news and for an explanation. I remember seeing the face of a woman displayed across the screen: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who had been shot and severely injured.
“Then I saw the face of a girl who didn’t appear to be much older than myself, Christina Taylor Green. She was nine years old. She died from her wounds. I asked my mom so many questions because I did not understand. Why would someone do this? How could someone do this? And most importantly: Is this ever going to happen again?
“My mom told me no, since six people, including a child, had been murdered and since a very important woman had been shot, things were going to change.
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“Fast forward nearly two years. I was 8 years old, living in Vermont now, anxiously awaiting Christmas, which was just over a week away. It was December 14, 2012 and as I ran down the stairs at the front of my school to meet my mom I could tell something was wrong. Later I found out there had been another shooting, this time in a small town elementary school just like the one I attended, and this time 26 people were killed. 20 of them were children my age and younger.
“I asked my mom a lot of questions again, and then I broke down crying, telling her she promised me it wouldn’t happen again and she cried too. She didn’t have an answer.
“Right after Sandy Hook, I saw the typical ‘lock the door’ lockdown drill turned into something scarier and much more real. This past school year, once a month, we were instructed to perform a lockdown, which included shutting off all the lights, closing the blinds, locking and barricading the door, and each of us armed with a textbook or something. And, this is a direct instruction, something else heavy that could delay an attacker. We were told to spread out in the room wherever we could hide.
“My story is not unique. It’s that of nearly every teen in America. We grow up in this environment of violence and watch it grow exponentially and we have been instructed to hide under desks and tables because apparently, to get an education, we have to put our lives in danger.
“Even going out in public now I find myself making a plan. Where’s the nearest exit? Where can I hide if needed?
“Worse, when you combine white supremacy with the easy access to a firearm the results are even more deadly. The El Paso shooting was the largest terrorist attack targeting Latinos in modern history. There have been other [attacks] targeting people because of their race, their religion, or their sexual orientation. We have to dismantle racism, bigotry and hate. We have to be better than this so that our kids don’t have to buy bulletproof backpacks and wonder if this time it’s a drill or the real thing.
“Firstly, we need to ban any and all high-capacity magazines and assault weapons. These are weapons of war and they have no place in the hands of civilians. We need to pass universal background checks and red flag laws to keep people who shouldn’t have guns from owning them. We need to ensure that all guns are kept locked in safes and gun owners are taught safe and effective storage rules.
“And finally, we need to fund gun violence research. This is a public health emergency. It’s time we start treating it like one. I’d like to thank all our congressional representatives for being here today.
“Senator Reed, I know you want to get back to Washington to pass the Senate bill. Push Mitch McConnell to take the Senate out of recess. There are lives at stake.”
United States Senator Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island) had spoken before Saal, so he was unable to directly address her words. But he did commit to action on guns.
“We mourn and grieve today, but in the days ahead we must recommit ourselves to enacting sensible gun control legislation, if we truly want to do justice to the men and women and their families who suffered at the hands of these gunmen,” said Reed.
“We do not want to gather again to mark another tragedy. We want to come together as a nation to make gun violence less likely. And we want to do it immediately. That is a debt we owe to those who perished and suffered in El Paso and Dayton and too many other places. So today is a day for words and mourning and grief and comfort, the days ahead are for action in the memory of those who have fallen.”
Here is the rest of the video from the event:
The event was emceed by Providence City Councilor Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12):
Marcella Betancur, Vice President of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee (RILPAC):
Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3):
Wendy Manchester Ibrahim:
United States Representative David Cicilline (Democrat, Rhode Island):
Reverend Jaimie Washam from the First Baptist Church of Rhode Island:
Councilmember Kerwin closed with a moment of silence.
[Special thanks to Joshua Keller for running the video for the event.]
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