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Today, the power of youth action that has driven some of the most important social changes in U.S. history is on display in Texas as two young men mobilize an effort by students and other advocates to keep dangerous loaded guns off college campuses.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence announced today that Colin Goddard, Assistant Director of Legislative Affairs at the Brady Campaign, and John Woods, Director of Students for Gun-Free Schools in Texas, will lead a coalition of students, parents, college representatives, law enforcement and other activists from across the state of Texas in a day of lobbying at the Texas State Legislature.
Their goal is to convince lawmakers to reject a series of bills that would force Texas colleges and universities to allow concealed guns on college campuses. This isn't the first time Goddard and Woods have worked to prevent gun violence in Texas. Both safety advocates lobbied successfully to defeat a previous attempt to allow loaded guns on college and university grounds.
However, the effort is seemingly never-ending as some Texas lawmakers continue to push this radical and dangerous idea. Currently, the Texas Legislature is considering three bills (SB 354, HB 86 and HB 750) that would allow guns to be carried into classrooms, dormitories and other buildings on campus.
Sponsors of these bills, like SB 354 author state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, have argued that allowing loaded guns on campuses could help avert a tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech, but as survivors of that massacre, Goddard and Woods know that having an armed student body would only add to the threat.
Speaking on the steps of the State Capitol today, Goddard said many colleges on Texas match or exceed the 30,000-member student body on Virginia Tech, with UT-Austin boasting a total enrollment of around 50,000 students. By allowing students to carry weapons loaded guns on such a large campus, Goddard said the risk and potential casualties of another mass shooting would be all the greater.
"In 1963, a lone shooter armed with a 6.5 mm caliber rifle made Texas the site of one of the most notorious acts of gun violence in U.S. history," said Goddard. "But by allowing students to carry loaded guns on campus, this state is only setting the stage for more acts of reckless hate that could rival the shootings at Virginia Tech and Dallas. Our colleges should be safe havens, students should not have to feel their lives are at risk to receive an education."
Like the insurmountable odds facing the drivers of the Civil Rights Movement, today's movement to reduce gun violence in our country also faces a seemingly invincible foe: the gun lobby and its influence on elected officials who are either too willing to expand access to guns or too afraid to oppose the spread of dangerous weapons. That's what makes the involvement of young leaders like Goddard and Woods so crucial.
Both young men are passionate advocates for gun violence prevention having both been personally affected by the worst school shooting in our nation's history: the Virginia Tech massacre. On April 16, 2007, a dangerously mentally ill student, Seung-Hui Cho, armed with two semiautomatic weapons handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition moved from classroom to classroom on a killing spree. By the time it ended 32 students and teachers were dead and 17 others were injured.
Since that tragedy, Goddard and Woods have worked tirelessly to support reasonable gun restrictions designed to protect communities from this kind of senseless violence. Goddard was attending French class when he and his classmates heard gunfire erupt in the building. As the horrifying noise drew closer, Goddard called 911 but as he was making the call, the shooter burst into the classroom and ruthlessly fired upon the people inside. The gunman shot Goddard's left knee, right shoulder and both hips.
Finishing the 911 call Goddard had started, another student managed to give police enough information to get to the scene. However, by the time police broke through the barricades Cho had erected, he had taken his own life. Told that he might never walk again, Goddard endured surgeries to remove bullet fragments from his body as well as grueling physical therapy to regain his full mobility.
After returning to Virginia Tech to finish his degree, Goddard decided to devote his energies to fighting for common sense restrictions to keep weapons out of the hands of felons, the dangerously mentally ill and others who shouldn't have guns. Goddard's remarkable story is detailed in the acclaimed documentary "Living for 32." The 40-minute film highlights Goddard's work for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, including his videotaped hidden-camera investigation of the unregulated sale of dangerous weapons at gun shows.
"It is nearly impossible to comprehend the horror and the agony that Colin endured nearly four years ago. It is just as difficult to imagine having the strength to move on from that experience without being consumed by fear, anger, or depression," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "This poised young man's dedication and enthusiasm inspire me."
John Woods was also a student attending Virginia Tech that terrible day in April 2007. After losing two friends in the tragedy, he launched his own remarkable effort to reduce gun violence. Woods, currently a graduate student at the University of Texas-Austin, is Director of Students for Gun Free Schools.
Dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, Students for Gun Free Schools opposes efforts by states to force colleges and universities to allow loaded guns on college and university campuses. After completing his degree at Virginia Tech and enrolling in graduate school in Austin, Texas, Woods thought he was leaving the 2007 tragedy behind him. However, he was alarmed to find that Texas lawmakers were considering measures to allow teachers and students to carry concealed weapons guns on campus. Woods jumped into action leading a coalition of fellow students and other activists to defeat those bills.
"People think of colleges as just being classrooms, but there's a lot more going on here," Woods said. "We have hospitals on campus. In some cases there are preschools, sensitive labs where there are hazardous materials. Adding to the mix an unknown number of guns will not enhance a campus's safety, it will only erode it."
In 2009, The Austin Chronicle recognized Woods among its "Critic's Choice - Best of Austin" on behalf of his successful mobilization and lobbying campaign in the face of incredible odds. Combined effort In the case of Texas' efforts to expand the presence of guns, Goddard and Woods have fought this battle before. However this time they are fighting together. Facing an even tougher legislative challenge, they hope that their combined lobbying efforts will encourage Texas lawmakers to reduce rather than increase the potential for gun tragedies on college campuses across the state.
Goddard and Woods will devote the day to lobbying at the Texas Statehouse alongside students, teachers, police and others fighting to keep college campuses gun-free. They were joined at today's press conference by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (HD-51); Scott Parks, student body president of UT-Austin; and Deborah Brown, chief of police at Southwestern University. Their coordinated effort is in collaboration with the Texas Brady Campaign Chapters, Students for Gun-Free Schools, the College Democrats at Texas State and UT-Austin's University Democrats.
Brady United formerly known as The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative and grassroots affiliate, the Brady Campaign and its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, is the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence. We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.
"Charging or jailing the killers is not enough," said the national director of the Working Families Party. "Justice is changing the conditions so no one dies during a traffic stop."
This is a developing story… Please check back for possible updates...
Editor's note: The videos at the end of this article contain graphic and violent content.
The city of Memphis, Tennessee on Friday night released four videos of the January 7 arrest of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black motorist who died after being beaten by five officers who were subsequently fired and charged with murder.
The footage was privately seen by Nichols' family on Monday. Three of the videos are from body-worn cameras issued by the Memphis Police Department (MPD). Another is from a camera mounted on a pole and contains no audio.
Before the videos were released, MPD Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis warned that they show "acts that defy humanity."
Nichols was pulled over by Memphis officers for alleged reckless driving that Davis has since said her department has been "unable to substantiate." After three days in the hospital, he died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure.
\u201cA young father, son, skateboarder, a photographer. This is who Tyre Nichols was.\n\nHe should still be alive today.\nhttps://t.co/JbsgEMTxMI\u201d— Vera Institute of Justice (@Vera Institute of Justice) 1674862160
"I am disturbed and disgusted by the sheer brutality and lack of humanity on display in the footage released today," said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson in a statement Friday night. "No person should ever be subjected to such violence, to have to call for their mother as they are being brutalized by police."
"This video is a stark reminder that in America, on any day of the week, a Black person can be brutally beaten to death less than a hundred feet from his home by those who are supposedly here to 'serve and protect' our communities," he continued. "Let me be clear—a traffic stop should not result in the brutal death of an unarmed man—period."
\u201cCPC Chair @RepJayapal and CPC Policing, Constitution, Equity Task Force Chair @RepBonnie echo community demands for justice for Tyre Nichols and call for fundamentally reimagining public safety in their statement on the release of the body camera footage of his killing.\u201d— Progressive Caucus (@Progressive Caucus) 1674865377
As Common Dreamsreported Thursday, former MPD cops Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills Jr.—who are all Black—were charged with second-degree murder and various other crimes.
In a series of tweets responding to the charges, ColorOfChange president Rashad Robinson said Friday, "Let's be clear, while the mass movement of people demanding some level of accountability has succeeded in this one instance, convictions aren't the goal."
"WE WANT AN END TO POLICE MURDERS OF BLACK PEOPLE. So, this moment isn't about Black vs. white, it's about blue vs. Black. Diversity cannot and does not solve systemic problems," he continued. "If we don't change the structure of policing and safety in our country, Black people will continue to be killed, by police of all races. The evidence is clear—investing in communities will keep us safe, not the police."
\u201cCharging or jailing the killers is not enough. Justice is changing the conditions so no-one dies during a traffic stop.\n\nPolicing is fundamentally broken. Trading white officers for Black ones was never a solution.\n\nIf we're serious about public safety, we'll fund our communities\u201d— Maurice Moe Mitchell \ud83d\udc3a (@Maurice Moe Mitchell \ud83d\udc3a) 1674866194
Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Friday evening that "Tyre's death is a bitter reminder of the Black lives that we've lost due to police brutality. Thirty years ago, we were horrified by the footage of police beating Rodney King. And yet, despite our decades of protest, we're still fighting the same battle."
"The only difference now is more of the horrific incidents are being captured on video, whether it be bodycams or bystanders," he added. "Tinkering at the margins of a violent police state is not enough. It never was. This death must amount to more than just another viral moment or hashtag. It must spark a serious reconsideration and shifting of priorities, deployment, and resources."
Before the footage was released, major cities across the United States were preparing for potential Friday evening protests.
According toThe Associated Press:
As a precaution, Memphis-area schools canceled all after-class activities and postponed an event scheduled for Saturday morning. Other early closures included the city power company’s community offices and the University of Memphis.
Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the "horrific" nature of the video but pleaded for peace.
"I don't want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that's not what my son stood for," she said Thursday. "If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully."
Noting that "there's been a lot of focus on the perceived threat of violence,"MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit Memphis newsroom, on Friday published a collection of stories and columns "to add context to this tragedy" for those who may be unfamiliar with "the antagonistic relationship police have cultivated with the community, dating back decades."
The coalition Decarerate Memphis shared on Twitter demands from Nichols' family and the community, including reforms to reduce the chances of similar future events.
\u201c\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8 Save and share everywhere. We demand #JusticeforTyreNichols\u201d— Decarcerate Memphis (@Decarcerate Memphis) 1674851240
The Movement for Black Lives tweeted advice on "how to limit viewing sensitive content" on social media platforms, for those who do not want to be traumatized by the footage.
\u201cToday a video of Tyre Nichols\u2019 murder will be released. Do not share it. Do not traumatize our people further by putting it in front of us. We feel the overwhelming rage and grief without subjecting ourselves to a video of his life being taken.\nTo protect yourself online: \u2b07\ufe0f\u201d— Movement 4 Black Lives (@Movement 4 Black Lives) 1674850469
"We grieve with Tyre's family, friends, and the entire Memphis community," the movement said in a statement. "Had those officers not pulled Tyre over, he would be here right now with his four-year-old son, taking photos of sunsets and skateboarding. Yet, even as we try to grieve and stand in solidarity with Tyre's family, we know the police are ramping up to criminalize our actions—meeting our calls for justice and accountability with more state violence and suppression."
Editor's note: The videos below contain graphic and violent content.
"These lobbyists are not getting hired to advocate for American energy consumers—they will push an agenda that benefits the new majority's donors no matter what it costs taxpayers."
An analysis published Friday by the nonpartisan watchdog Accountable.US revealed that numerous former fossil fuel lobbyists are being hired to work for the Republican-controlled 118th Congress, including in high-level positions on the House Natural Resources Committee.
"As the Republicans majority begins the new Congress, former oil industry lobbyists will have new and growing influence as top staffers for congressmen on key committees," the analysis states.
Accountable.US detailed the close ties between Nancy Peele—chief of staff to House Natural Resources Committee Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)—and fossil fuel interests.
"It's no surprise that Big Oil is infiltrating the halls of Congress after spending millions to elect some of the most extreme legislators in American history."
Peele's history includes:
Majority Leader Steve Scalise's [R-La.] Chief of Staff Megan Bel Miller came to Scalise's office straight out of working as an oil and gas lobbyist... Miller lobbied Congress on behalf of National Oceans Industry Association, a group representing the offshore oil and gas industry. Bel Miller advocated for polluting industry interests on numerous conservation issues, including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and offshore leasing. Majority Whip Tom Emmer's [R-Minn.] new Policy Director Ian Foley is an energy and mining lobbyist. In 2022, Foley lobbied Congress on behalf of the uranium mining industry and public utilities with oil and gas portfolios.
These are but a handful of the many examples of the revolving door between Big Oil and Congress highlighted in the analysis.
"It's no surprise that Big Oil is infiltrating the halls of Congress after spending millions to elect some of the most extreme legislators in American history," Accountable.US energy and environment director Jordan Schreiber said in a statement. "These lobbyists are not getting hired to advocate for American energy consumers—they will push an agenda that benefits the new majority's donors no matter what it costs taxpayers."
Underscoring the analysis' findings, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation that would require the federal government to lease a portion of public lands and waters for fossil fuel extraction for each non-emergency drawdown of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The bill was introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was the top recipient of oil and gas PAC money in the House Republican caucus during the last election cycle.
\u201cNEW: MAGA Republicans in Congress just passed a bill that would obstruct one of @POTUS\u2019 only powers to protect consumers from Big Oil\u2019s price gouging\u2014letting oil companies get rich at Americans\u2019 expense. https://t.co/pcwPGdVkIs\u201d— Accountable.US (@Accountable.US) 1674844979
"We grieve for all this unthinkable loss. And with our grief, we also rage," said Jewish Voice for Peace. "The Israeli government's domination and oppression of Palestinians is the root cause of each of these senseless, tragic deaths."
Human rights defenders condemned a Friday attack outside a synagogue in an illegal Israeli settlement by a Palestinian gunman who murdered at least seven people—a massacre that followed the killing of 10 Palestinians by Israeli forces during a raid in the occupied West Bank Thursday.
TheTimes of Israelreports the unidentified gunman shot and killed seven people and wounded three others during the Friday evening attack in Neve Yaakov in East Jerusalem. Friday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The attacker was shot dead during a gunfight with police as he attempted to flee into the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina. An ambulance service said the deceased ranged in age from 20 to 70.
In a statement, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said the U.N. chief "strongly condemns today's terrorist attack by a Palestinian perpetrator outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, which claimed the lives of at least seven Israelis and injured several others."
"It is particularly abhorrent that the attack occurred at a place of worship, and on the very day we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day," Dujarric added. "There is never any excuse for acts of terrorism. They must be clearly condemned and rejected by all."
\u201c\ud83d\udea85 #Israelis killed & 5 wounded in a shooting attack near a synagogue in the Neve Yaakov settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.\n\nViolence begets violence begets violence....\n\nPeople don't understand how close the occupied territories are to a full disastrous explosion!\u201d— Muhammad Shehada (@Muhammad Shehada) 1674846498
Tom Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, tweeted that he is "shocked and disgusted at this heinous terrorist attack on innocent people, including children. Praying for all of the victims and their loved ones."
The synagogue massacre came one day after Israeli occupation forces killed 10 Palestinians including an elderly woman and wounded around 20 others during an early morning raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Israeli forces then bombed Gaza early on Friday morning after Palestinian resistance fighters fired two rockets at Israel.
The Jenin raid was part of Operation Breakwater, a nine-month campaign targeting Palestinian resistance in the camp and nearby Nablus. Human rights groups say 30 Palestinians, both fighters and civilians, have been killed so far by Israeli forces in 2023. Last year was the deadliest year for West Bank Palestinians since the second intifada—or general uprising—a generation ago, with 150 people including 33 children killed. Another 53 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2022.
\u201cInstead of linking today's terrible attack in Jerusalem to Holocaust Remembrance Day, which it has nothing to do with, you might connect it instead to the 30 Palestinians that have been killed by Israel just this month. This is a cycle of violence borne of Israeli apartheid.\u201d— Arielle Angel (@Arielle Angel) 1674851482
In a statement following the synagogue murders, the U.S.-based group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) called the attack "the inevitable, horrifying outcome of decades of Israeli apartheid"
"We grieve for all this unthinkable loss. And with our grief, we also rage. The Israeli government's domination and oppression of Palestinians is the root cause of each of these senseless, tragic deaths," JVP contended.
"The violent, racist speech coming from the Israeli government makes it clear that the Israeli military will continue to escalate its violent attacks on Palestinians. Already the Israeli army has invaded Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem," the group said.
\u201c10 killed in #Jenin and now 5 dead, 5 wounded in Jerusalem shooting attack: these are the ENTIRELY PREDICTABLE RESULTS of a vicious extremist #Israeli government that leaves no room for hope, no room for peace, more to come. https://t.co/kQt5NgIMw3\u201d— Sarah Leah Whitson (@Sarah Leah Whitson) 1674845638
What we are witnessing is not a "conflict," a "clash," or a "war" between two equal parties. There is no mistaking the massive disparity of power between the Israeli government and the Palestinians it targets. Backed by $3.8 billion in annual military funding from the U.S. government, the Israeli government controls, dominates, and dispossesses Palestinian lives and lands.
"We are on the side of unconditional commitment to justice, equality, freedom, and dignity for all people, no exceptions," JVP added. "To achieve a future where all are safe and free, we must end the Israeli government's settler-colonial apartheid regime."