An Interview With Aalayah Eastmond

Madalen Erez, Literary Arts Editor

17 lives were lost as a result of the MSD shooting. This affected many in the community, especially you as an MSD student at the time. You stepped up, speaking at the March for Our Lives event, and testifying before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. How did these events shape your perspective? And almost three years later, how would you reflect upon them?

I already was very aware that gun violence was a huge issue that disproportionately impacted Black people because I lost my uncle to gun violence a few years ago in Brooklyn. And, when I first moved to Florida, I lived in a community that was heavily impacted by gun violence. But because I was so timid, and I was very reserved and quiet, I didn’t really speak out a lot. Even in class, I didn’t talk often because I was just super concerned with how people viewed my opinions at that time. But, experiencing the shooting really shaped my personality and I’m super outspoken now, I’m unafraid to speak out. And I realized that although some things might make people uncomfortable, we have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable to solve these issues, specifically gun violence. And speaking at these events definitely shaped me to be more outspoken. A little fun fact—the March for Our Lives was the first time I ever publicly spoke. So, speaking in front of nearly a million people as my first time was definitely scary. But it helped me to be able to speak in front of anybody without a problem. So, these two events shaped me into the person I am now.

I often don’t reflect on my speaking engagements because they are just so consistent and ongoing, and I don’t really have time to digest certain things that I do. But sometimes I just sit down and think—Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I just did that. But, when you’re so busy in the movement and consistently working, you don’t have time really to reflect. Hopefully, eventually, when life calms down, I’ll be able to properly reflect. I often reflect on the shooting, every single day. It’s something that I can’t run away from, it’s now a part of my life. Sometimes that’s hard but healing and grief is a process that has no timeline. So, hopefully, in the next years, I’ll be able to truly grieve what happened because I got involved with activism like four or five days after the shooting. It was immediate.

As the Team ENOUGH national administrator and executive council member, you work to educate young voices about gun violence. What is the relationship between gun violence and race?

A lot of people talk about gun violence now after my high-school sparked a world-wide conversation about gun violence in America. They forget to realize that Black people are the number one group impacted by gun violence. Gun-violence was for a long time a leading cause of death for Black youth. But now, this year, I believe, it is now a leading cause of death for every youth. People fail to realize that a lot of the systems that we have—like society and government—have allowed gun violence to disproportionally impact communities of color. For example, the flow of guns in these communities. And I’m going to use D.C. as an example. D.C. is a city that has very, very strict gun laws. But because it is in between Maryland and Virginia, these guns are consistently brought into marginalized communities in D.C., and the police don’t do anything about it—they oftentimes perpetuate that same violence. So, I think people need to really look at the systemic issues that our society has and how that relates to gun violence. Because that is a race issue.

You have often spoken of the disproportionate coverage of gun violence in media. How prominent is this issue? Why is it important to note?

I think media plays a huge role in this issue. We know that mass shootings unfortunately get a lot of ratings. If you really look at the communities that are impacted by mass shootings, they are often not communities of color. So, of course, the media will gravitate towards these communities because they’re not Black people—I’m just going to have to say it straight like that. And, if we look at the language the media uses in terms of mass shootings, it’s often related to mental health issues or security not doing something. When we look at language used when there’s an issue or a shooting in Black communities, it’s often that the community is filled with thugs, or that this is just the regular and can’t be fixed. The language that media uses is very important and creates a negative view on communities of color. And, also, people fail to realize that, for example, in D.C. last weekend we had five people that were shot, and one died. That is a mass shooting. Nobody wants to classify it as a mass shooting because it happened in the Black community. Media plays a huge role in the marginalization of communities of color.

It’s important because if people are not able to have access to view the issue, or acknowledge the issue, then the issue will not be fixed. To be frank, to solve all the systematic issues we have in communities of color, we need allies. Allies being white people, and of course we know there’s not a lot in our communities. For these issues to be solved, we need this allyship, but language will push them further away—language used by the media. Media not even covering the issue will not even get it exposure, so people won’t recognize that, you know, maybe up the street from their house can be a gun ridden area. But they wouldn’t know because the media doesn’t care, since it’s happening to Black people. It is very important to call out the media when we see them doing things like this, because again it plays a role in the marginalization of communities of color.

What is your perspective on how we can combat gun violence of all types?

It is important to recognize the different intersections of gun violence. It cannot be solved with just one piece of legislation—or even two, four, five pieces of legislation. For example, solving mass shootings would be more so about implementing legislation to make it harder for those who are deemed harmful to themselves or others to get a gun.

But, for communities of color, I think it’s more necessary to provide resources for these communities. Because we know that legislation doesn’t always apply to Black people, or is over-policed on Black people, or puts them in prison. The solution needs to be more community-based. That’s how we will solve this issue, by breaking down different intersections and really working together to talk about the different reasons that gun violence happens in different places, and how to combat it. And not just saying universal background checks will stop gun violence for everybody, because that’s just not true.

This year, there have been more protests and riots in communities everywhere. Can you share your feelings on the topic of gun violence as related to the increases in community unrest and violence across the country?

This summer, I co-founded an organization called Concerned Citizens of D.C. We organized a lot of the protests that took place in D.C. from May, up until now. It was important for us to let people know that as we continue talking about gun violence, we must also recognize that police violence is a part of that conversation. I notice a lot of people exclude that. Support everyone in the movement for Black lives this summer because it’s very important. But it’s also important to recognize that police violence is a huge part of the conversation when we’re talking about solving gun violence. And if we look at it, a lot of the ways we solve police brutality is how we solve gun violence in communities of color. They really go hand in hand.