Students interrupt WBUR gun violence event

Say high-profile panel not addressing their concerns

I APPRECIATE EVERY LEGISLATOR and law enforcement in the room, but none of you dodge bullets for a living.”

That was said by a parent at WBUR’s CitySpace on Monday evening when a group of student activists interrupted a high-profile forum  touting the strides Massachusetts has made in gun policy. High school students from Dorchester and Roxbury said the panel discussion wasn’t addressing their concerns.

Monica Cannon-Grant, the mother who talked about dodging bullets, spoke out after listening to elected leaders and academics, including Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, discuss progress Massachusetts has made in gun policy. Another panelist, Sam Zeif, talked about his own experience at the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Parkland High School in 2018.

“Yes this has happened in Parkland, yes this has happened in Vegas, but for residents in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan – in fact someone was shot yesterday – they dodge bullets on a regular basis. That’s the voice missing on this space,” said Cannon-Grant, an activist with a group called Violence in Boston.

The Roxbury and Dorchester students described their friends taking Ubers to school in Boston because of the fear of waiting at a bus stop amidst neighborhood shootings. They told of others unable to afford Uber rides witnessing gun violence on the streets and experiencing PTSD after.

“Nobody should have to worry about their kid getting on a bus, walking to school, going down to corner to get milk, it’s as simple as that,” said Healey. She encouraged the students to “keep showing up.”

Becker invited Cannon-Grant to join the panel for the second portion of the discussion (Baker and Healey had to leave early) along with Boston Globe columnist Nestor Ramos. DeLeo remained, and said legislators need to take a look at what is going on in the “urban setting,” where homicides are increasing. He said, however, that having strong Massachusetts gun laws is important.

“Having the strongest laws in the country has made a difference in terms of safety here in our great state,” he said.

“Not for the black people,” Cannon-Grant responded, urging legislators to go into communities of color for information on gun violence, even if that makes them uncomfortable.

“Crime is down in areas where it was never up to begin with – in Newton, Wellesley, Brighton, and Allston where things rarely happen,” she said. “In communities of color, not only is crime up, but teen homicides have doubled, and it’s not even an uptick. It’s a steady increase.”

Boston is three months into 2019, and seven out of the 10 homicide victims were killed by gun violence. All seven were young men of color.

Student Jaida O’Brien speaks about her experiences with gun violence at Cityspace event. (From WBUR livestream.)

The students argued that legislation specific to guns is not the issue; they said the focus should be on where the guns are coming from.

Another panelist, John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence, said Massachusetts gun laws save lives, but the problem is that two-thirds of all gun crime happens with guns from out of state. He said that if every state had the same firearm fatality rate as Massachusetts, 27,000 lives would not be lost to guns a year.

Jaida O’Brien, one of the high school students, wasn’t impressed. “I don’t know why there’s a smile on anyone’s face up here. At the end of the day, we’re our own state and city,” she said.

O’Brien said she has struggled since her father was killed and mom shot in a home invasion four years ago. “It took me a long place to get to where I am,” she said. “I had to talk to therapists because I was honestly lost. People out here living with real life trauma, not having anyone to talk to. You guys need to work with us, and not just focus on these gun control laws.” She recommended more trauma assistance in communities impacted by these crimes.

Some of the students noted there wasn’t a single African-American panelist who experienced gun violence at the $10-a-ticket event. WBUR host Deborah Becker said March for Our Lives student activist Vikiana Petit-Homme had to cancel.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Arianna Constant-Patton, 16, said another person of color should have been invited. “There are hundreds of other nonprofit organizations and people in black and brown communities that could have taken the time to come here,” she said.

Ariyana Jones, 17, said she watched someone try to shoot her brother two years ago, but luckily the shooter’s gun jammed. Now, when a member of her family leaves home, she said it’s not just a quick goodbye. “It’s I love you, it’s be safe, and text us when you get to your location,” she said.