Stop gun violence! Justice for AJ OwensStop gun violence!

by Nelida Esther Jean-Baptiste Pellot

In June, AJ Owens, a Black woman, was shot by a white neighbor in Ocala after the neighbor threw a roller skate and swung an umbrella at Owens’s two sons (ages 10 and 12) for reportedly being too loud. 

When Owens attempted to confront the neighbor by knocking on her door, she was shot through the door in the chest and died from her injuries. 

Owens’s family is pushing for hate crime charges, but currently the charges stand at manslaughter with a firearm (in addition to culpable negligence, battery, and assault. 

Gainesville gathered to honor Owens on Aug. 2, and the text below is a reflection on that gathering and the plague of gun violence. 

In the vast expanse of human existence, one undeniable truth emerges: the specter of gun violence has cast a long shadow across our history in Gainesville, in the United States and beyond. On Aug. 2, the Gainesville community came together to honor Ajike “AJ” Owens, a mother, a soul taken like so many by guns, white supremacy, and hatred. 

We were led by Moms Demand Action, M.A.M.A.s Club, Against All Odds Movement, Duval Neighborhood Association, and more. There were truly too many organizations tired of the fragile future that awaits our youth, particularly Black and brown children, should we continue without action. 

We joined in art, song, and words that will surely reverberate across time in that sanctuary that was the Gainesville Bridge. Power was felt through movement, vignettes of lives, and stories told that truly made our collective breaths heavy. 

But what can we learn from the stars above about this conundrum? Just as celestial bodies are bound by the laws of physics, so too are societies governed by the laws of cause and effect. To unravel the complexities of gun violence, we must employ the tools of science and reason. 

Scarcity, racism, lack of resources, lack of youth mentors, mental health resources, exposure to constant violence in music, television, and games are all root causes named, but the truth will come in how we are able to come together and take accountability, action, and solve this problem in the same way we convene to mourn those who pass.

Let us remember that we are not just stardust, but stewards of our own destiny able to shape the future for those who follow. Individually we may not be able to prevent tragedies like the one befallen on the Owens family via racism and stark hatred, but in community we can change our course entirely. Let us be a model for others to follow. 

For background on the case, see

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