Northwestern Professor Andrew Papachristos moderated the panel, which consisted of Jeff Vespa, who directed the film, MSD survivor Aalayah Eastmond, and two Chicagoland professionals who have engaged with the issue of gun violence, Ashley Wolf and Mary Stonor Saunders.
Weinberg second-year Kaitlyn Seese, who is the president of Team Enough NU, said the panel was originally planned for March but was rescheduled due to the pandemic.
In evoking the emotions of survivors, parents and teachers in Voices of Parkland, Vespa said he hoped the film would serve as a catalyst for change.
“It’s all about making people feel it in some way, so they understand this does need to change,” Vespa said.
Eastmond admitted that she had not watched the film, which she is in, citing that she generally avoids watching herself discuss the shooting because it is painful.
Following the shooting, the March for Our Lives movement ignited in the fight against gun violence as students from MSD led the call for change.
“We had a very unique experience, that being because the shooting happened at a high school, and particularly a high school that was embedded with resources that allowed these students to mobilize,” Eastmond said. “We can’t say the same for inner city schools with Black students who deal with this every day. They are not embedded with resources that would allow them to mobilize and speak out about an issue they deal with daily.”
Yet Eastmond added that the crux of what makes any movement truly a movement is intersectionality, noting that the movement did not include those intersectional conversations when it originally started.
“We had the privilege of being able to mobilize and talk about the issue,” Eastmond said. “Being a young woman of color, I recognize that when the movement originally started, it was very one-sided. I felt like it only talked about school shooting or mass shootings, which is [a small proportion of all gun violence in the U.S.]. That’s actually what triggered my activism, seeing that lack of intersectionality.”
Wolf, a pediatric ICU doctor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, spoke about the need for a robust national health care system that includes mental health care, among other changes.
“We really have to address the root causes of this. I think we have to pour money into some of our poorer communities, our communities of color, these areas that we have neglected and systemically oppressed,” Wolf said. We’re not going to solve it in the short term, but we can pour money and build up the infrastructure and build up the community.”
For Eastmond, injecting resources into marginalized communities is part of the answer. Long-term solutions revolve around abolishing oppressive systems.
“When people hear abolition they think it’s a very radical statement and it’s too far off,” Eastmond said. “But it’s written in our Constitution that the people have the right to abolish any systems that are not working for the people. Our criminal justice system isn’t working, our police forces are not working. They continue to oppress people of color, particularly Black people, and it’s very evident.”
Parkland has also been reckoning with the broken police system that Eastmond pointed to. The Broward Sheriff’s Office was heavily scrutinized for its mishandling of the MSD shooting. An officer who arrived on the scene of MSD while the shooting was in progress hid behind a vehicle and was fired for neglecting his duties. In May of 2020, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association Union announced that the officer would get his badge back and be granted full back pay and seniority, a decision that drew community criticism.
Another officer was also fired for neglecting his duties. He was on campus when the shooting began and did not confront the shooter or mitigate the violence. He was arrested on felony charges because of this.
After the panel, Team Enough NU screened the film via Facebook Live. The 60-minute film showed teachers and students who survived the shooting, as well as victims’ family members, creating a painful and powerful narrative. Papachristos said when he and his partner first watched the film, they briefly had to pause it.
“Every person in the country can’t experience gun violence, personally, in order for this issue to be changed,” Vespa said. “And the only way for it to be changed is for people to have that empathy, somehow, without having that happen to them.”