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HU Symposium Charts Path Toward Safer Communities

Experts Address Gun Violence in U.S. and Need for Policy Changes

In an era where drive-by attacks, police-involved shootings and random mass murders, due to their unprecedented frequency, have led a growing number of citizens to a state of apathy, a series of panel discussions held on the campus of Howard University in Northwest invoked emotional reactions, personal testimonies and a host of recommendations related to changing the current landscape.

With the theme “Triggered: The Power of Guns, Law and Politics,” the third annual C. Clyde Ferguson Jr. Symposium, hosted by the Howard University School of Law and the Howard Human and Civil Rights Review, fostered conversation on the development and implementation of strategies and legislation that could provide a pathway to greater safety in America’s cities and communities.

Keynote speaker Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL 2nd district) joined legal experts, politicians, student activists and a vocal audience as they explored the meaning behind the second amendment, addressed the realities of gun-related violence today and provided reasons for more stringent gun laws and policies in the U.S.

Panelists included: Aalayah Eastmond, student activist and senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School; Lord Jamar, recording artist, producer and activist; Zion Kelly, student activist; and Harold McDougall, professor of law.

The morning panel, moderated by rap artist Rah Digga, focused on the concept of “human hierarchy” and the proliferation of and possible explanations for unprovoked mass shootings that continue to occur in common spaces, including public schools, in America. One teenaged participant, Aalayah, a survivor of the Parkland shooting that resulted in the death of 17 students, pointed out that the gunman had been a victim of repeated bullying and wondered if its emotional impact may have been the impetus for his deadly rampage.

McDougall explained the concept of “human hierarchy” as described in the New York Times best-selling book “Queen Bees and Wannabees,” written by parenting educator Rosalind Wiseman that served as the basis for the popular teen movie “Mean Girls.” McDougall said bullying plays a dominant role during adolescence, existing within a hierarchy that includes “winners and losers.”

In comedic fashion, Rah Digga referred to her formative years when both bullies and the in crowd co-existed. Best known for her membership in the Busta Rhymes-created group, FlipMode Squad, she’s now a blog commentator with Lord Jamar who’s part of the popular rap group Brand Nubian. Lord Jamar chimed in asserting that today’s youth, including millennials, have become too “soft” and that being bullied makes one stronger. Before the session’s conclusion, Aalayah had been brought to tears.

Briana Thompson, a third-year law student and member of the group that organized the event described its purpose.
“One of the goals of the program was to have a panel comprised of people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to facilitate a much-needed, realistic discussion on gun violence in today’s society,” she said. “There are generational gaps that cannot be ignored. Back in the day, bullying ended at the school; now bullying continues online.”

Aalayah pointed out that while Parkland employs nine security guards, the school only has three counselors, illustrating a use of financial resources that she believes should be reconsidered.

Other sessions included a panel that discussed the recently-formed gun violence prevention movement and the impact of that violence on public health. One conservative politician, Liz Matory, approached the conversation from the perspective of a gun rights advocate. One litigator from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Jonathan Lowy, called for greater gun control while a community advocate, Wilson Santos, spoke about the necessity for more intentional for violence prevention strategies within black and brown communities.

Second-year law student James Walker said bringing different voices to the table needs to be facilitated more often so that information can be shared.

Thompson agreed.

“We hope the program provided a platform for the community to see the different perspectives in our society in a way that can help initiate a conversation on how we can come together to eradicate gun violence,” she said.

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