Guns In My Home State

by Laura Fotovich

“I’m not necessarily pro-gun but I’m not anti-gun either.  I think the laws should be stricter on how people can obtain a gun legally, but I don’t think outlawing guns is going to help [solve the problem] in America,” said Overland Park, Kansas, resident Emily Butler.

Emily and others I interviewed from my hometown in Olathe, Kansas, and the surrounding area began to think about gun control after the Parkland, Florida shooting that left 17 dead.  Guns are extremely common in Kansas, a fact that I learned from a very young age.  You simply cannot escape their presence. I remember when I saw a man in Olathe carry a gun into a local barbeque restaurant at lunchtime like it was perfectly normal.  The restaurant was busy and others noticed as well.  No one said anything, but many looked away uncomfortably.

 

People in Kansas carry guns for recreational shooting, hunting and looks.  “You see a lot more guns out here,” said my father, Larry Fotovich. My dad still lives in our hometown.  He remembers when he saw a local man try to bring a gun into a gun-free building.  “He got out of his truck and realized he couldn’t go into the post office with a gun on his hip, so he bent down and stuck it under [the seat of his car].  People are rabid about guns in Kansas,” he said.

 

Since I moved to New York City I haven’t seen any firearms.

 

Gun laws vary between states, especially between states in different regions of the country.  In New York, a license is required for any U.S. citizen (or non-U.S. citizen that is a lawful permanent resident or has a valid alien firearm license) to own a handgun, but a license isn’t necessary to possess a long gun.  The New York City laws are stricter, requiring a license to own both a handgun and a long gun.  Kansas, on the other hand, allows any citizen above the age of 21 to openly carry a gun without a license.

 

A problem in Kansas involves people who try to bring guns into gun-free zones.  “I had a kid in my school who tried to bring a gun to school.  He was in my first hour class.  The police got him before he came into school,” said Springhill, Kansas, resident Mary Kate Hale.  Growing up in the Midwest helped shape Mary Kate’s opinion on gun laws.  “Knowing how many people around me carry guns on their waist or in their car trunk gives me the creeps.  It has definitely made my views towards gun control stronger.  There is no reason to need to have a gun in public” she added.

 

Regardless of a person’s views about gun control, the total number of fatalities is fact-based.  In 2018 New York totaled an average of four firearm deaths per 100,000 people, while Kansas totaled 13.3 firearm deaths per 100,000 people.

 

Leawood, Kansas, resident Jack McConathy recounted a story of gun violence in downtown Kansas City.  “My aunt’s friend was leaving a bar one night and this car drove past her.  A guy rolled down the window and shot her as part of a gang initiation,” he said.  “Growing up in the Midwest, gun culture is kind of ingrained into society,” he added.

 

In some Kansas schools it is legal to conceal and carry firearms.  Johnson County Community College, for example, has a concealed carry policy that allows students to carry firearms on campus as long as they cannot be seen.

 

Emporia, Kansas, resident Dylan Schneider supports concealed carry in Kansas, as long as proper background checks and training are implemented.  “As a future teacher I want to make sure every school that I teach in, and every school in the nation, has the means to protect itself against active shooters, because the safety of the children is the top priority,” he said.

 

Many gun safety advocates think this strategy could be risky for the overall safety of the children.  On average, one school shooting occurs every week in the United States and as of June 2018, the United States has suffered a total of 154 mass shootings.

 

Do Metal Detectors Prevent Gun Violence?

Cardi B-Instagram post about guns

by Roberto Hart

“Ya wanna know what’s the problem? That the government only put metal detectors in schools in the HOOD!” You can always count on the Bronx, New York, native and rising rapper Cardi B to let people know what’s on her mind, and the minds of others. With one Instagram post reacting to the Parkland, Florida school shooting, she sparked a conversation about metal detectors.

 

guns-in-our-lives
Line forms for metal detector scanning at Springfield Gardens High School in Queens, N.Y.

Dominick Fobbs graduated from a high school with metal detectors in Springfield Gardens, Queens. The 23-year-old said, “Maybe they should have had metal detectors… Springfield has them and you don’t hear of things like that happening there. Outside of the school is another story because that’s just the area”

Another Springfield graduate, Sarah Otivia, said she remembers the detectors feeling like an inconvenience at first. “You had to come an extra thirty minutes early, wait on a huge line no matter what the weather was. But after a few years in you understand why this was done,” she said.

In New York City, school officials, parents, and politicians have debated the merits of metal detectors for almost thirty years. The first metal detectors on school grounds were installed in 1992 after two students were shot to death at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. There are now about 88 high school and middle school buildings across NYC with airport-style scanners and handheld metal detectors.

The installation of metal detectors is often considered the city’s knee-jerk reaction to violent episodes. After a knife attack by a student at Urban Assembly’s Wildlife Conservation High School in the Bronx in 2017 left one student dead and another wounded, metal detectors were installed the very next day. Critics wondered why they weren’t there in the first place.

 The New York Times, in 2017, reported that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) found the number of weapons, or “dangerous instruments,” at public schools had increased from 1,073 to 1,429. Rather than an increase of incidents, the Times quoted the mayor saying, “The increase reflects a city more adept at discovering weapons.” In the same article, Chief NYPD Spokesman Stephen P. Davis also pointed out, “Not all confiscations result from metal detectors.”

New York City Mayor de Blasio told CBS2 in 2017 that he’s not opposed to metal detectors. But he asked, “Do we aspire to a society where every kid has to go through a metal detector to go to school?” Others like Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union call for more “relationship building” to answer questions like, “What went wrong? What is going on in this school with regard to the overall climate, with regard to bullying, with regard to conflict resolution, with regard to whether or not kids have an adult that they can go to for support in the school environment?”

Those who oppose metal detectors argue that they create a hostile environment for students. Principal Jill Bloomberg of Brooklyn’s Park Slope Collegiate told ProPublic that installing metal detectors “sends a message to the students that ‘We don’t trust you. And even if we trusted you, we don’t necessarily trust the guy behind you.’”

 

 

 

Stoneman Douglas Graduates Respond To School Shooting

guns-in-our-lives

by Erik Garcia

Claire McCue, a professor of social work at Hunter College in New York City, was in a Manhattan coffee shop using her laptop when she saw her hometown high school all over the national news. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, had never been in the national spotlight before. Claire, who has family and friends at the school, feared the worst.

Claire borrowed headphones from another customer in the coffee shop and nervously watched a livestream of the Coral Springs Police Department responding to a shooting reported at Douglas High School. She worried about friends and people she knew.

Claire called her close friend, Allison, who has twin daughters at the school. Allison was already rushing to the school to see if her girls were all right. “It was horrifying to see the school under those circumstances,” Claire recounted. “My nephew Joe lost his friend. Knowing the first responders personally…it was all just paralyzing.” Allison’s girls, it turned out, were not harmed.

Many Douglas High School graduates, myself included, and parents of current students had experiences like Claire’s on the day of the shooting. “Parkland is a small town,” explains Valerie Siegel, a Douglas graduate now living in Atlanta, GA. “Many of us have friends that still live in the area and have kids or other family members at Douglas.”

Douglas High School graduates are troubled by the shooting but also hopeful that the current generation of Douglas students will accomplish something positive in the wake of the tragedy. “I was pretty devastated when I heard about it,” says Brian Bromberg, a director of creative content at Nickelodeon in New York City. Brian grew up in South Florida near Douglas High School, and, like many Douglas graduates, Brian says that he was shocked and upset by the shooting but feels hopeful as he sees current Douglas students leading the national discourse on gun violence.

“A lot of people who were affected are kids of former classmates of mine,” Brian explains. “I know of two kids who are traumatized by it. I know two of the kids that were shot—I know their parents. But, it’s very encouraging how the kids are reacting. They haven’t had enough experience with politics yet to feel like nothing’s going to change. They’re going to get more done than our generation did.”

The day after the shooting, Douglas graduates from all over the U.S. rallied to support their alma mater. Details are being kept private to avoid publicity. The extended Douglas family admires and supports the efforts of current Douglas students to get existing firearm regulations modified and new regulations enacted. Within weeks of the shooting, prompted by the lobbying of Douglas students, the Florida Legislature passed modest gun control legislation that increased the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and expanded background checks, but stopped short of banning assault weapons. Banning assault rifles is one of the demands of the 17 Voices movement, led by Douglas students, formed in the wake of the shooting.

Stuart Siegel is a Douglas graduate now living in Ajo, Arizona where he is director of the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center. “I felt saddened and shocked,” Stuart explained, “but also numbness due to the number of shootings that there have been, and how the rhetoric seems to get us nowhere, and how we just seem to be aggressive and divided. But, I’m impressed by the way that the current students are handling it—getting national attention repeatedly, leading the national discussion on gun control and violence in a way that I’ve never seen before. I’m cynical about the political process, but I’m hopeful that whatever energy is stirred up right now will continue to bear fruit.”

Valerie Siegel, who works with the Homebuilder’s Association in Atlanta, knew one of the Douglas shooting victims, assistant football coach Aaron Feis. “Coach was two years younger than me,” Valerie explained. “My friends are extremely affected by his death. My friend’s nieces and daughter were in the building. I hate that people feel unsafe in that building now. I don’t know how to think about any of it. Those kids are amazing, though. They’re going to change the world.”

Get Fit For Free

by Karla Escobar,

Tired of paying $30.00 dollars or more for a gym subscription? Well, The City College of New York Wingate Fitness Center gives you the opportunity to exercise for free. It’s open to all students and faculty, but the best part is you just have to show your student ID to join, nothing more.

The fitness center, located on the third floor of Wingate Hall, opens Monday through Thursday from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM and Fridays 8:00AM to 4:00 PM. On its busiest day 500 students may work out there, and on a slow day about 300.

The Fitness Center has a variety of equipment to help you achieve your fitness goals. Fitness and Strength Coordinator Scott Losche says, “Every student should really take advantage of it.” He says even if you haven’t worked out before and don’t know how to use the equipment, fill out a form and they will get in contact with you to assign you a free instructor.

City College student Christine A. said, “Gyms now are $20.00 dollars a month or more… so for me it is very convenient to come here. Because I’m not a morning person, I come after my classes and I don’t like to do it between because I don’t like to rush for class.”

Faculty member Midgalis Sanchez said, “I come during my lunch hour, I like to take advantage of it because it’s free.”

The Wingate Fitness Center differs from gyms at other schools. “Most CUNY schools you have to pay, especially for faculty,” Losche said.  He explained that staffers want make the gym even better. They hope to open on Saturdays and Sundays and upgrade equipment. These changes may have some effect on fees. When asked if changes may cause faculty members to pay a fee, he said, “That’s one of the balloons that are floating up.”

If you want more information about the Wingate Fitness Center you can visit them or call them at 212-650-6595.

 

 

 

 

Easy to Make Mistakes, So Verify

The Parkland shooting shows us how easily you can make a mistake and report things that are untrue in the rush to get a story out quickly.

Two things stand out:

  1. The false report that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who killed 17 and wounded 14 others at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, was connected to a white supremacist group.
  2. There have been 18 school shootings since January 1st, 2018.

Let’s tackle the first false report.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that follows hate groups, wrote on its blog the day after the shooting that Cruz was associated with a Jacksonville, Florida, white supremacist group, Republic of Florida (ROF). The ADL had previously been contacted by someone who described himself as the leader of the group.

The ADL told Politico it picked up the information on 4chan, a bulletin board where self-described ROF members claimed Cruz was one of them.  News organizations picked the story up and people on 4chan kept it going. One of the users described it as “prime trolling opportunity,” and the discussions involved fooling reporters and feeding them the story that Cruz was with ROF.

The same kinds of conversations between these trolls about the false connection showed up on Discord, a gamers’ app that attracts neo-Nazis, about a concerted effort to fool reporters.

Politico posted these exchanges from the bulletin boards:

“On the Discord chat, a user called Curbstomp suggested sharing generic photos of ROF and claiming they depicted Cruz.

“I have an idea . . . We can just take a pic of masked ROF members and claim one of them is Cruz,” Curbstomp wrote.

Members of the Discord chat swapped potential photos.

Others joined the chorus on 4chan, interspersing jokes with purported confirmations.

“I can confirm this guy was trying to enact a race war and got kicked out of ROF,” wrote another poster.”

Reporters from AP and ABC contacted the trolls and supposed members of the group and went with the story.

But shortly after the first report, on Thursday, February 15, 2018, the Broward County sheriff said it wasn’t true.

How do you verify a claim that someone is in a hate group?

The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups. Contact them and ask.

The FBI monitors hate crimes. Some local law enforcement agencies do too. Contact them and ask.

ProPublica, a non-profit news organization, began Documenting Hate, a project that collects data from journalists from more than 130 news organizations as well as independent journalists, local law enforcement, community groups and civil rights groups to try to get a clear picture of what is happening in America

The Anti-Defamation League has been a reliable source in the past.

The bottom line is that Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter are good sources for leads and ways to connect with people. But you have to be extremely careful, because we know that people in chat rooms, on social media, and trolls are determined to spread false information and use reporters to to do it.  Take your time. Report only what you know.

 

 

2. Mistaken numbers about school shootings.

PolitiFact traced the first error to surface to a tweet from ABC reporter Jeff Greenfield.

In the rest of the world, there have been 18 school shootings in the last twenty years. In the U.S., there have been 18 school shootings since January 1.

It picked up 130,000 likes on Twitter.

Greenfield apparently picked up the statistic from Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The number of 18 does not mean that there were 18 incidents of someone going into a school and shooting students, as Cruz allegedly did.

Instead the number includes a man committing suicide in a school parking lot and a student unintentionally firing an instructor’s gun. You can see the full list here.

If we use careful language, we would not classify many as school shootings.

Checking Facts:

PolitiFact checks claims of politicians, reporters and others in the news.

FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center

Snopes.org was founded in 1994 to research urban legends. It has become a go-to source for checking out internet rumors.

Open Secrets.org, part of The Center for Responsive Politics, follows political contributions and money spent on lobbying. It followed where the National Rifle Association (NRA)  money went in the 2016 election.

 

Sunlight Foundation shines the light on government and government officials using public records, technology and information from civic groups and journalists,

See Through New York, a project of the Empire Center, shows you salaries of every public employee in New York State as well as pension information.

 

The Biggest Secret

by Zhané  Parker

Imagine being a junior in high school but not being able to travel, get a license, or work. This was Marjorie Anacelia Fajardo’s reality until the establishment of DACA.

“It was a lifesaver, it completely opened new doors for me,” she said.

Marjorie was born in Olanchito, Honduras and raised in La Ceiba by her aunt and uncle. Her mom left for the U.S. without her when she was one. “I stayed in contact with my mom always but it wasn’t a close relationship,” she recalled recently.

At seven, her life changed forever after one call from her mom. She was told she was moving to the U.S. to live with her mom who was pregnant with her brother and was being brought to the U.S. by an uncle she had never met.

“I  was excited to travel to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico but didn’t really understand the situation! It was a really sad day for me, I was leaving the people that raised me.”

Marjorie and her uncle began hopping from house to house, sleeping on floors, and waking up before the sun to reach their next destination. The person leading them often struggled to pay off cops and coordinate their route. When they reached the Mexican border, she was separated from her uncle and left with relatives. Her uncle was sent back to Honduras. Marjorie’s relatives took her and passed her off as their daughter to fool border control when they entered the U.S. by car.

“It was dark that night, probably around 1 a.m.  They told me no matter what happened I had to pretend to be asleep,” she recalled.

A border patrol officer shined his flashlight in their faces and demanded to see their ID’s to prove citizenship.  The officer saw Marjorie asleep in the backseat and demanded to see if her face matched the ID her family showed. Her family convinced the officer to let her remain asleep. Her life in the United States had just begun.

“If he saw my face I wouldn’t have made it through,” she said.

The relatives brought her to her mother in Texas, whom she had never met, a complete stranger. “I was indifferent, I don’t remember feeling happy or sad. I felt numb,” Majorie said.

She remembered that she hated leaving her home and language behind for the United States. In school, peers bullied her for sounding and looking different, for not being an American.

Undocumented, she always had to lie about why and how she left Honduras.

“I felt guilty keeping my secret from everyone, I couldn’t do a lot of things and I didn’t have a Social Security number. Whenever I saw a box for it I would look at it and think about what I could possibly write down. It scared me. Thankfully DACA was passed just in time for me to go to college. I could now get a job and fill in that box.”

On June 15th, 2012 the Obama administration established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This changed the lives of nearly 800,000 undocumented children living in the United States, giving them a sense of acceptance and freedom.

Recently, President Trump rescinded DACA and threatened life for so many including Marjorie. After she heard the news she began to laugh in disbelief and called her cousin who was also protected by DACA.

“I thought about how the government could easily send us back. We know no one in Honduras and would probably be killed if we went back. I don’t know what I’d do. I have no family there,” she worried.

Marjorie says she refuses to stop chasing her dream of working in film production. She is putting together a documentary about the effects DACA has had on children’s lives.

“I want to be the voice for all those afraid to discuss their status and I want to tell their stories. The support from people has been so heartwarming. There are so many standing with us.”

At twenty-one, her life and future are threatened but she remains optimistic and is touched by the overwhelming support.

“We will keep fighting, we are not going anywhere!”