Nearly two hundred people, mostly women, gathered at Providence College on Saturday for a forum “to shine light on the adverse impacts of gun violence and domestic violence on women, their children, and their families.” First year Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and a committee of volunteers brought together “a diverse coalition of women and community organizations dedicated to violence prevention.”
Saturday was International Women’s Day and March is Women’s History Month.
“I am an educator by profession,” said Ranglin-Vassell, “and I ran for public office because I am weary of watching the toll of preventable gun violence and domestic violence on my students and their families. The shooting of a young man this past summer was a turning point for me. I recognized that I could not stand on the sidelines any longer, not when the children in our community were dying in the streets.”
Ranglin-Vassell convened the forum “to raise awareness, inform and empower attendees,” and enable everyone “to effectuate positive change in their own lives and within the communities where they live.”
Representative Teresa Tanzi, who spoke at the forum, recently reintroduced the Protect Rhode Island Families Act (H5510). The bill would prohibit gun possession by people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors and people currently subject to final domestic abuse protective orders. It would also require domestic abusers to surrender their guns to law enforcement or to licensed gun dealers when they become prohibited.
“The bill that I’ve sponsored adds one more layer of protection to these families that are victims of domestic violence,” said Tanzi.
A panel moderated by former State Representative Linda Finn was emotionally wrenching and difficult. Each of the five women on stage had lost someone close to them through gun violence, or had been the victim of domestic violence in which guns played a part.
Gemelya “Gem” Barros lost her daughter Shemeeka Barros in a triple homicide. Barros now helps others to heal from loss and trauma through art.
Lisa Pina-Warren works with the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence an organization with the mission to teach, by word and example, the principles and practices of nonviolence, and to foster a community that addresses potentially violent situations with nonviolent solutions. Pina-Warren told her story of living in Providence and being drawn to the work of preventing violence out of both social duty and personal tragedy.
Giovanna Rodriguez is a member of SOAR (Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships). A survivor of domestic violence, it took Rodriguez years to do the difficult work of leaving her abuser and finding her voice.
Diana Garlington lost her daughter Essence Christal, to gun violence in 2011. She is an amazing community activist, tirelessly working against domestic violence and gun violence.
Myra Latimer-Nicholas lost her son, Steven Latimer, in 2011. Steven had accidentally touched a car, and was shot and killed.
The keynote speech came from Lucy McBath, a national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and the Faith and Community Outreach organizer for Everytown for Gun Safety. McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed at a gas station in Florida by a man who said the car’s music was too loud. The shooter used Florida’s “stand your ground” law as a defense. After a mistrial, the shooter was found guilty and is now serving a life sentence.
“I lived in fear that my son would be killed,” said McBath, ” I even warned him that because he was a young black man, he would meet people who didn’t value who he was, nor value his life.”
Ranglin-Vassell ended the program by talking about the importance of the Protect Rhode Island Families Act, but also talked about the importance of raising the minimum wage as it relates to gun violence. Ranglin-Vassell introduced H5595, which will raise the minimum wage in Rhode Island to $15 by 2022.
“We know that a lot of domestic violence is also tied to finances,” said Ranglin-Vassell, “because money exerts control over women and over people. We also know that in order to stem the criminal activities and gun violence in our streets [we need] to raise the minimum wage, because the families have to be running from two jobs to three jobs. They are not always at home to take care of their children.”
Recognizing the economic roots of violence in our communities is a truly progressive idea. Ranglin-Vassell recognized this when she closed the program saying, with the hint of a smile and with loud cheers in response, “I would be remiss if I didn’t say Jesus was – is – a progressive Democrat. God bless you.”