I’ve seen the cost of gun violence in my hometown. So I decided to get involved.

Local high school student Aleshia Krider discusses the disproportionate impact of gun violence on communities of color.

Trayvon Martin and I could have been friends. I could have found myself in his shoes, doing the same things he was doing the day he was killed. As a young black person, I identify with Trayvon. The news that he had been killed shocked me. I read details about George Zimmerman stalking Trayvon — an unarmed boy in a hoodie. I read about how Zimmerman called law enforcement, how they told him to stop and wait for police to arrive, how he disregarded those instructions, and how he ultimately shot and killed Trayvon Martin. That moment made me recognize just how serious of an issue gun violence in America is.

Despite the fact that George Zimmerman was clearly in the wrong, we still have no justice for Trayvon. And it seems that every day when I turn on the TV, there are countless others losing their lives due to ignorant and hateful crimes committed with guns. So when I was given the opportunity to choose a summer fellowship, I knew I wanted to work on gun violence at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV).

Gun violence has a strong impact on me because I see it wherever I go, and I’m sick and tired of people getting killed. It is a serious issue here in my hometown — the District of Columbia (DC). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015 the gun death rate in DC was 14.57 per 100,000 people (adjusted for age). For black DC residents, it was 31.08 per 100,000 people. That means that in DC, the rate of gun deaths for black residents is more than twice as high as the gun death rate for all DC residents. This reality is why I wanted to get involved with CSGV.

CSGV’s goal is to prevent gun violence, and they are working together with communities across the country to try to make the world a safer place for everyone. I knew I wanted to help, but until I worked here, I didn’t know how I could. I didn’t realize the solution to this complicated problem involves not only working to counter the culture of gun violence in my community, but also improving our laws.

Closing loopholes is an important part of strengthening our gun laws. By not having a national standard for gun laws, we undercut states with strong laws as people exploit states with weak ones. These loopholes put innocent people in harm’s way. For example, in December 2016, two men were arrested in Virginia Beach conspiring to bring guns from Virginia to New York. They sold 86 firearms — including 65 pistols, 13 revolvers, 5 assault weapons, and 3 shotguns and ammunition — to an undercover NYPD detective over the course of 15 transactions. Only four months later, 24 people were arrested in the DC metro area in a conspiracy where over 200 guns were sold to another NYPD undercover operation. In both instances, gun traffickers were buying guns in Virginia and driving up the I-95 corridor to sell guns in New York, where gun laws are stronger. Who knows how many guns they sold in other states along the way? This drive to sell weapons along the I-95 corridor is so common that law enforcement refers to the corridor as “the iron pipeline.” Virginia’s weak gun laws are making it more dangerous for people like me in DC, where our gun laws are strong.

The most shocking loophole that I learned about while at CSGV is the way our background check system operates. If you are a private seller in a majority of states in this country, you don’t have to run background checks for individuals purchasing guns. That is bogus.

What’s worse is how common such sales are online and in gun shows. If you go online right now, you can see dozens of undercover videos where people are legally buying guns without a background check, identification, or record of sale. There are even videos where undercover officers stated they couldn’t pass a background check, and the sellers said that as long as they had cash, they could still buy the gun. Why are our laws protecting the people who are making a profit from selling weapons instead of protecting the innocent people killed by them?

Another terrible law I researched is the “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) law a number of states have enacted. SYG is bad law, and it seems to impact communities of color disproportionately. White-on-black homicides are 354 percent more likely to be ruled justified than white-on-white homicides. I have read case after case in which people explain that they shot someone because they were scared or claim self defense even though there was a clear opportunity to exit those situations without bloodshed.

This brings me back to Trayvon and George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was ultimately found not guilty for killing Trayvon Martin because of Florida’s SYG law. Even worse, Zimmerman is still permitted to carry a loaded weapon in public. I look at this situation and feel betrayed. Where is Trayvon’s justice? Our laws failed Trayvon and protected the man who killed him. And the system is still working to defend people like him. Right now, the gun lobby is demanding that Congress pass a bill that would allow George Zimmerman to conceal and carry the same gun that killed Trayvon here in DC and in every other state, regardless of the local laws. It is laws like SYG and nationally mandated concealed carry reciprocity that make me feel like our laws are stacking the deck against people like me.

How can the NRA and the legislators that vote alongside them argue loudly in defense of George Zimmerman, but remain silent for Philando Castile, a concealed carry permit holder who was shot by law enforcement in his own car while notifying law enforcement about the firearm he was legally carrying? Castile was driving with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter when he was pulled over by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Castile was shot while reaching for his ID after notifying Yanez he had a gun permit and was carrying. The officer shot Castile seven times, and Castile died from his wounds. It is hard to imagine this situation unfolding the same way if Castile were white. Castile had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and he was informing the officer responsibly. The only person that seems to have violated the law is Officer Yanez. Yet on June 16, a jury acquitted Yanez on all charges. Castile did not get any more justice than Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, or Trayvon.

I don’t think you can talk about gun violence in communities of color without including a discussion on police brutality. The more I researched this topic, the more complicated it became, but police brutality is one example of how laws can be used to hurt people of color rather than help them. For me, the connection between gun violence and police brutality is simple. When firearms are used for the wrong reasons, innocent people are harmed or die. These situations are happening more and more frequently, and they disproportionately affect communities of color.

I feel frustration and mistrust towards our current system. But I am heartened to know that people and organizations are working on these problems. I am encouraged to see that a lot of law enforcement agencies and communities are working together to improve the dynamic. Just like gun violence prevention groups are working to improve gun laws that disproportionately impact communities of color, there are people and groups working towards equality in criminal justice and community-based policing. CSGV’s sister organization, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, organizes the Virginia Action Network, which holds meetings that bring law enforcement and communities together. They’re working to improve relations between police and communities of color, to improve social services, and to build community engagement. Last month, Ed Fund staff held a meeting in Williamsburg with the Virginia Action Network to discuss relations between police and communities of color. Initiatives and conversations like this are an important step and can make a difference, just as addressing gaps in our laws can save lives.

Preventing gun violence is important. I want to live in a world where all people are able to enjoy themselves and go out into their communities without worrying about being injured or killed. Guns cause nothing but heartbreak, death, and fear. My time at CSGV has taught me that there are commonsense solutions to gun violence, and that we all can do more to achieve a safer world. We know the policies that can save lives. We know different ways that communities, law enforcement, and the criminal justice system can work together. Now we just need our lawmakers and our citizens to advocate for those policies. I know I will.


Aleshia Krider is a 17-year-old rising senior at Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Capitol Hill Campus. This summer, she has been a fellow with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV).