“There was another shooting last night.”
My husband greeted me with those words on a Friday morning, not for the first time. It has become a strange sort of love language we have developed, as if somehow first hearing the latest horrifying news from someone you love will lessen the blow.
It is always followed with a further caveat: Was it a mass shooting, a school shooting, or another shooting of someone who looks like my husband and our sons?
It had been a particularly difficult week. First the trial of Derek Chauvin, rife with ridiculous explanations for a murder we all witnessed, then the excuses about the senseless killing of Daunte Wright being an “accident”. This followed by the release of the nauseating footage of the shooting death of Adam Toledo, a child.
The same week, what was initially reported as a school shooting turned out to be another officer-involved shooting of a young black man, Anthony J. Thompson Jr. This, at a Tennessee school that has already lost an almost inconceivable five students to gun violence since January.
Then, overnight and through that weekend, so many more shootings. More lives lost, more thoughts and prayers, and the inevitability of more excuses why change is not possible.
I am victims’ rights attorney. I fight daily for the rights of crime victims. However, in many situations, those who have lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement, and the family’s left behind, are not treated by the legal system as victims. Fingers are pointed, allegations, excuses and justifications are made, and benefits and rights are denied.
I have chosen to work in a legal system that is inherently retraumatizing and unfair. A system that, often, does not actually offer “justice.”
Weekly, if not daily, I explain to clients why the outcome they were hoping for is not going to happen.
I explain to victims of domestic violence that yes, maybe charges would have been filed if their injuries were more serious, or visible.
I explain to victims of sexual assault that, no matter what they did after they were raped, it will be used against them, because of the number of victim-blaming myths that pervade our society.
And I fight to ensure victims of color have access to the rights that every victim of violent crime in Colorado should be entitled to, regardless of the circumstances of their victimization, instead of being treated like suspects.
Colorado has been at the forefront of victims’ rights in the United States for almost 30 years, and sometimes, we also lead the charge with gun safety laws. Last year, with the passage of Senate Bill 217, a police-accountability measure, we gained national attention for passing a comprehensive law addressing police misconduct.
Unfortunately, these are incremental changes, ones often met with resistance; changes the status quo pushes back on, because the idea of broad, sweeping change is just too much for some people to stomach, even if it saves lives.
We must ensure accountability of law enforcement, and consequences for taking a life must be swift and sure. We must overhaul a system that has normalized fatal consequences for minor, non-violent crimes, like having expired tags or passing a counterfeit bill.
We must also change things so that the first reaction to a child posing any kind of a danger does not result in their death. We must immediately improve gun laws, ban assault weapons, and expand background checks.
And then we need to ensure those laws are followed, that efforts are not made in each new legislative session to chip away at important changes, and that firearms are actually taken from people, such as domestic violence offenders, who should not have them.
The families of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Anthony J. Thompson Jr. and many others are mourning. As are so many more in our state and across the country. In my view, every single one of these deaths was preventable.
The fear that families feel that their loved ones could be next is very real, and it has to stop; we have no time to waste.
If we embrace actual, system-wide, sustained change, centered on saving lives and not protecting institutions, maybe someday I won’t have to hear “there was another shooting.”
Kazi Houston is the legal director of the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, a nonprofit law firm for victims of crime in Colorado. A Colorado native, she has worked in the legal system in various capacities for more than 20 years.
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