My name is Mariah Cooley, I’m 19 years old, and I’m used to losing people to gun violence. Let that sink in for a second: I’m used to losing people to gun violence.
Growing up in Peoria, Illinois — one of the worst cities to live for Black Americans — I lost a close friend to gun violence in eighth grade. A few years later, I lost a cousin too. It’s hard to believe that one person could experience this much loss and trauma at such a young age, but that’s the devastating reality for too many of us.
Through dark times, I tend to look for light, and I find it in the words of great Black women, like one my personal heroes Maya Angelou. She once said, “Nothing will work unless you do.” So, I’ve gotten to work.
In 2018, around the time I lost my cousin, I got involved with March for Our Lives, organizing a walk-out at my Illinois high school. When I got to Howard University — the alma mater of Kamala Harris — I noticed that there wasn’t a March for Our Lives chapter. As a young Black woman, who has lost friends and family to these senseless acts, I stepped up to lead, in the spirit of Dr. Angelou’s words.
I see gun violence through two lenses: One, through my age. My experience is shared by too many of our generation. And two, through my Blackness. Too often, the narrative only centers mass shootings. But what moved me to action are the daily incidents of gun violence that disproportionately happen in low-income, marginalized communities — often Black communities and other communities of color. And sometimes at the hands of the very people who are supposed to be protecting us: police.
This past Monday, another Black man was killed by police in Philadelphia. Walter Wallace Jr. was a married father of seven who struggled with mental health issues. Yet again in America, a mental health crisis ended in a shooting death that was witnessed by his friends and family. It shouldn’t be this way. Walter Wallace Jr.’s life mattered.
Someone dies every day in the Black community from gun violence. As an activist, and future politician, I believe that’s where we need to spend our time. And that’s why I’m supporting the ticket that agrees: Biden-Harris.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris believe that gun violence is a disease that requires a public health approach, and so do I. Almost 40,000 people die as a result of firearm injuries every year in the U.S., and that is not acceptable. If Biden and Harris win, they have a plan that will stop these tragedies.
Like me, the Biden-Harris ticket supports universal background checks and closing loopholes in the background check system. These are no-brainers that would make all of us safer. Additionally, they will tackle daily acts of gun violence that disproportionately impact communities of color. Even though they don’t make national headlines, these incidents are just as devastating to survivors and victims’ families. Biden and Harris have plans to create a $900 million, eight-year initiative to fund evidence-based interventions in 40 cities across the country – the 20 cities with the highest number of homicides, and 20 cities with the highest number of homicides per capita. This proposal is estimated to save more than 12,000 lives — the lives of people we know — over eight years.
Like me, kids who are exposed to this kind of trauma need support. Science now shows that when kids witness violence, it literally alters the parts of their brains that affect “reasoning, planning, and behavioral control.” This kind of trauma, married with fear of school shootings, is having a major impact on the mental health of too many in our generation. Joe Biden’s plans would not only take on gun violence, but also treat the resulting trauma as a serious crisis in its own right.
And like me, Biden and Harris want to tackle systemic racism and root out injustice. They will institute real police reform, including implementing a national use of force standard, because they believe Black lives matter. And they will rip out inequities that plague every aspect of our lives.
I shouldn’t be numb from losing people to gun violence, and neither should you. That’s why I’m proudly casting my ballot for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Let’s get to work.
Mariah Cooley is a political science major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she is the co-founder and legislative director of the Howard March for Our Lives chapter. March for Our Lives is a student-led demonstration group in support of legislation to prevent gun violence.
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