About a month ago, I graduated from the University of Iowa and moved home to Cedar Rapids before heading out to New York to accept fellowship with a human rights organization. As I prepared for my move I sorted through my childhood possessions, choosing what to leave and what to take. I spent my mornings exploring my neighborhood with jogs through New Bo, filled with a sense of pride by the community that was now flourishing after being decimated by the flood. My time at home allowed me to reflect on my childhood but they also awoke me to a growing national crisis. In the two weeks I spent at home, there were two shootings in the Oakhill-Jackson Neighborhood.
When I spoke to my parents about the shootings, both had the universal look of worried parents. Sure, they were concerned about themselves but they feared for the kids who play basketball, jump rope, and ride their bikes around our neighborhood.
Days after I moved to New York one of the deadliest mass shootings in history occurred. At Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a safe space for the LGBTQ community, 49 people were killed and 53 more injured, an especially painful tragedy as it was during Pride month. Undoubtedly I was not alone in my shock for this senseless violence and I still grieve for their community today. However, several weeks later no substantive policy change has happened at a federal level.
Just weeks after Orlando, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in were shot dead by police in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, respectively. While we mourn their deaths, we continue the tireless search for answers as to why so many young black men are killed by police who shoot first and ask questions later. Gun violence and police use of lethal force are inextricably linked by the common thread of devalued life. This is also true when examining the lives of officers that were lost during the sniper attacks in Dallas. When we conceptualize these deaths as mere numbers, we forget that these are our brothers and sisters, our friends, and most importantly, they are people with the right to safety and to life.
Guns claim the lives of over 30,000 people in the US every year. A frightening statistic, but nonetheless a number that’s easy to put out of one’s mind. In high school, I lost two of my peers to gun related accidents. My mother has students who have been forced to grow up with single parents or as orphans because of this pervasive violence. Unfortunately, we’ve reached a level where we are all likely know someone who has been affected by this national crisis.
While there may be no immediate panacea for gun violence, there are direct steps we can take to change policies that allow anyone to buy a gun without a background check. We must fund our mental health facilities to prevent those with mental illness that may be a threat to others, or more commonly to themselves. We must teach our children the importance of safety. And most importantly, we must take an introspective look at what we tolerate as acceptable for our nation and the standard to which we hold those tasked with protecting us. It’s a national tragedy to lose 30,000 people every year to a preventable crisis. Like so many others, I lament for those affected by gun violence and worry every day that I’ll lose a friend, a parent, or child in our neighborhood.
I hope to return home to Iowa someday to raise my future sons and daughters. The Iowa I know and love doesn’t tolerate this sort of violence. These 30,000 deaths cannot be 30,000 isolated incidents. This is a crisis that we can prevent and should work tirelessly to do so. For the sake of humanity, let’s end this tragic ritual.
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• Oliver Hidalgo-Wohlleben, an Iowa native, is the Ladis Kristof Memorial Fellow at Amnesty International in New York.