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Why I’m Running: Lessons from the Dayton Mass Shooting One Year Ago

A woman stops to look at a memorial on 5th Street at the
DAYTON, OHIO, UNITED STATES - 2019/08/07: A woman stops to look at a memorial on 5th Street at the site of Sunday morning's mass shooting that left 9 dead, and 27 wounded, Wednesday, August 7, 2019 in Dayton, Ohio. Trump visited a nearby hospital but did not visit the site of the shooting before flying to El Paso, Texas, which was also the site of a mass shooting. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

One year ago, in the early hours of August 4, 2019, nine people were murdered and 17 others injured by a gunman in front of Ned Peppers Bar in the Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio. The Oregon District is a lively neighborhood full of restaurants and bars, and Ned Peppers is a local favorite.

The night of the shooting, I almost decided to go there with my friends, as we usually did, but for some reason we decided to venture elsewhere nearby. Today, I’m still grappling with the fact that a whim that seemed so inconsequential at the time not only saved but fundamentally changed my life.

That first week of August was a wake-up call to me that this country needed to change. Just hours before the shooting in Dayton, 22 people were killed and 24 injured by a white supremacist with an assault rifle at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The majority of the victims were Latinx—and that was why they were targeted, according to a hate-filled manifesto allegedly written by the shooter.

I went to high school in the post-Columbine era, and the threat of a mass shooting has constantly loomed in the background of my life. But in Dayton, a city with a 43% Black population, gun violence is an even more real and present danger for other reasons.

In cities like ours, mass shootings don’t account for the majority of the 500 violent crimes committed here each year. Instead, it’s the daily occurrences borne of government neglect and lack of resources.

It’s the domestic violence that happens behind closed doors, and the fear that the victims—usually women, especially Black women—have of speaking out. It’s the shootings that “only” kill one or two people at a time, the ones that go largely un-investigated. It’s the police brutality inflicted upon Black and Brown Americans that has bred an almost irreparable distrust between the community and law enforcement.

The day after the mass shooting in Dayton was the anniversary of another shooting—six years ago, a Beavercreek officer shot and killed John Crawford III for holding a BB gun that was on sale at a Walmart. Later, even though surveillance cameras caught the entire murder, the officers involved were not indicted on any charges.

In a vacuum, these are local tragedies. Compounded, they are symptoms of a national crisis.

Even after a headline-grabbing mass shooting, President Trump and his allies only paid lip service to change. At first, several powerful Republicans, including the president himself, expressed a willingness to consider stronger gun safety laws. Our own congressman, Mike Turner, came out in support of a hypothetical assault weapons ban and extreme risk laws, commonly known as “red flag” laws, in the days following the shooting. Several weeks later, however, Turner dismissed any interest in universal background checks.

And one year later, they have delayed and reneged, and now we have nothing to show for their claims. It’s clear that far too many politicians in Washington DC care more about gun lobby dollars than what the people they represent believe.

I have long known that one day, I would want to represent my home district in Congress, but I had not expected to run this soon. One year ago, I realized that I could not wait on the sidelines any longer for change to come to Dayton and Southwest Ohio. The cost of inaction was already too high.

I’m running because no city should be synonymous with a mass shooting. I’m running because I don’t want any community in America to grieve the way my community has grieved. I’m running because we need leaders who care enough to address gun violence in all its forms, not politicians who make empty promises to constituents while taking orders from the gun lobby.

This August 4th, I’ll be with my community, honoring the lives we’ve lost, and also looking toward the future. We have so much work to do, but as the saying goes—we’ve got to do something!