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By Kathleen Hoban
Deon Kay, an 18-year-old man, was shot and killed by Metropolitan Police Officer Alexander Alvarez on September 2 around 4 p.m.
The shooting took place in the Congress Heights neighborhood last Wednesday, half a mile from where Kay resided with his mother. The bodycam footage released by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) shows a brief, yet chaotic scene. The footage shows Alvarez getting out of his vehicle and running after Kay then shooting him once in the chest after seeing him brandish a firearm.
Following the shooting, MPD applied first-aid until medical professionals arrived on the scene. During this time, Alvarez scanned the area, looking for the gun that was brandished, to which he repeated “where is it?” and “I gotta find it.”Additionally, one of the officers assisting Alvarez advised him not to speak to anyone and to move away from the weapon, while another told him to turn his camera off.
Gun violence has plagued Washington, D.C., with firearm-related homicides peaking in 2019 at 166 people, the highest since 2008. Since the start of 2020, there have been 116 homicides, leading experts to believe that there will be a new peak by the end of the year.
With gun violence at an all-time high in the District, gun violence prevention groups have been taking stronger positions on gun control measures, including legislation that aims at reforming and defunding the police.
Chris Stauffer and Simran Chowla are co-leads of the D.C. chapter of March For Our Lives (MFOL DC), an organization dedicated to gun violence prevention and control. The pair dedicates their time to empowering young people to take a stand against gun violence and fight for gun violence prevention policies.
“The way that our society and the police violently treat black and brown Americans is just despicable,” Stauffer said. “As gun violence prevention activists, we have a duty to address those forms of violence.”
Chowla also weighed in on the issue surrounding gun violence in D.C.
“Whether or not he had an illegal gun doesn’t make a difference,” Chowla said. “Owning a gun illegally does not negate your right to live.”
Tensions between police and social justice groups have heightened due to the numerous deaths of black and brown Americans, leading to a rise in protests across the country. Kyle Rittenhouse was recently arrested and charged with first-degree homicide after shooting three protestors during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, leaving two dead and one critically injured.
Chowla drew parallels between Kay and Rittenhouse, highlighting the disparities in police conduct in the two firearm-related events.
“You have Kyle Rittenhouse, who can murder two people, and was allowed to brandish an illegal rifle past police and go home,” Chowla said. “He is still alive, and he killed people.”
“It is so inhumane to me that one person can murder people and get away with it because they are white, and another person might have a gun, might not have a gun and they’re not going to live past it,” Chowla stated.
Strauffer and Chowla also called for reform among law enforcement and legislators, prompting a better understanding of gun violence prevention by allocating more money to gun violence intervention groups and holding police accountable by requiring more de-escalation training.
“We can invest a lot more money into grants to local violence intervention programs,” Strauffer said. “Gun violence intervention groups have been successful, but when they are defunded, violence does go up.”
Simran addressed the concern of the Iron Pipeline and the need for federal legislation that outright bans ghost guns. A majority of the guns in D.C. are ghost guns, firearms that can be assembled by an individual at home. In 2020, there have been 222 homicides within the D.C. area, 173 of the deaths being homicides by firearm.
The Catholic University of America is located in Ward 5 of D.C., where higher rates of gun violence occur in the District. The most recent incident occurred on Thursday at the Brookland/CUA Metro station according to a Cardinal Alert sent to students by the Department of Public Safety.
With the university being separate from the Brookland community, it is easy for students to overlook these violent events.
Kelly Woodson, Vice President of Black Student Alliance (BSA) and Outreach Coordinator of March For Our Lives CUA (MFOL CUA), has been advocating reform while urging students and administration to look deeper into gun violence prevention.
“This is a life or death issue, this is a human rights issue,” Woodson said. “My race is seen as a threat rather than a sign of beauty.”
Woodson advised students to check their privilege, donate to anti-gun violence organization, and most importantly, have those difficult discussions in order to shift the tone on campus surrounding gun violence
“I want the university to look at this as a bigger issue and a bigger picture,” Woodson said. “We need the university to look at the Brookland community and see what can we do better to end this violence.”