Bright orange balloons, ribbons, outfits and posters saying “end gun violence” were on display at the Gun Violence Awareness Month kickoff event at the Doles Center in Mount Vernon. Community members and partners gathered to speak about gun violence within the nation and how Mount Vernon can work to end this growing “epidemic” on June 7.
Across the country mass shootings such as in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York and more recently in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, have called communities to speak up against gun violence as the number of mass shootings are increasing. As of today, there have been 254 mass shootings according to the Gun Violence Archive. Among that number, 158 deaths were of children aged 0-11 and 569 deaths were of teens aged 12-17. Overall, there are a total of 19,200-gun violence deaths.
Among the attendees and speakers included Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard, Pastor Damon Mack, City Council President Derrick Thompson, journalist Samson Styles, Cynthia Turnquest-Jones, founder of Tha Brown Urban Mother Partners, Inc., the Mount Vernon Police Department and others. Additionally, organizations including the Youth Shelter Program of Westchester, Westhab and SNUG Outreach were present providing information about the work that they do specifically for the youth population.
“Other than wasted potential there’s no greater loss than robbed potential” said Pastor Damon Mack from the L.I.V.E. Church. “Every time a gun goes off and takes one of our young kings and queens that is potential that we are robbed because that life may be the very answer to some questions that we need answered.”
Many victims of gun violence include young people who have yet to experience things such as graduation, prom or getting their driver’s license. Speakers passionately urged parents and older members of the community to have open conversations with the young people in their lives to teach them about the dangers of gun violence. They also expressed their desire to be a listening ear for young people in times of hardships and need so that rather than taking to the streets, they know they have a support system.
“We have to be proactive instead of reactive” Thompson said. “Let’s intervene as soon as we can and let’s love on our brothers and sisters…sometimes it’s just that hug from that one person or that positive conversation from that one person that makes a difference.”
The rampant gun violence has also led to some citizens wanting more legislation passed such as requiring federal background checks and increasing the minimum age to purchase a rifle. Cynthia Turnquest-Jones expressed the low voter turnout rates in Mount Vernon and how important voting is to getting specific policies passed.
“I implore you to get out and vote” Turnquest-Jones said. “The problem is the fact that when I leave, I don’t know what’s going to happen to the children because individuals are not voting now, it counts for later on.”