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In the pause: Gun violence on my block in D.C.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 10.00.41 AMThat’s a bullet hole in the middle of a shattered window in my apartment building lobby. According to the DC Police Department, it was caused by an assault rifle, a military-grade weapon. By law, these weapons cannot be owned in D.C. by any civilian for any reason, meaning the weapon was stolen or sold illegally. The reflection in the window is the building across the street, one of the largest public housing complexes in the city, and the stage for that gun fight. The irony is not lost of me. I live in a glass house, with a clear view of the Capitol a mile away, where the divide between rich and poor across North Capitol Street is a chasm that just keeps getting wider.

Though I grew up in a rural area (there is a tractor-crossing sign across the street from the home where I grew up), I’ve lived in large cities, often in developing neighborhoods, for the majority of my life. I’m not blind to the level of crime and violence that exists in our cities. I have been robbed at knife point in a Philadelphia subway station and aggressively harassed, sometimes pushed and physically threatened, on the streets of New York and D.C. But this incident of a bullet into my apartment building is crime on a whole new level for me. It has already begun to change the patterns of my life and how I navigate my neighborhood. Constant vigilance now has a whole new meaning for me.

And here is the saddest part—I’m luckier than anyone who lives in the building reflected in my shattered widow. I can move when my lease is up. Most of the people who live in that building, many of them children, are good people. They are stuck, and their situation is about to made worse with cuts in healthcare and education. These are the very people who need to be protected and as a society, we aren’t protecting them. I’ve made a point to get to know them because I understand their situation on a personal level. My family had no money when I was growing up. I know what it means to be afraid, to struggle, to feel hopeless. It’s hard to see or find a way out, and certainly even harder when you live in a building where violence is often just a breath away.

As someone who has been down into the depths of PTSD, incidents like this cause to re-evaluate just about everything in my life. I understand the preciousness of our time. I understand it’s fleeting. I understand that it goes by too quickly. I understand that we spend too many days waiting and not enough days living up to our full potential. I don’t know where this new sense of urgency and reflection is taking me. I promise to let you know where I’m heading and what I intend to do to make this world a better, safer place for all people. I can also promise you that I will not waste this learning or be dragged down by it. I will make it my fuel.

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