So, it’s come to this.
Young people pushing to publicize images of their bullet-ridden bodies if they are killed by gun violence in the hopes that a nation can be jarred into action.
I’d like to say that it’s a good idea, as shocking as the campaign is. And that’s the point of the Columbine High School students who started it. Maybe this is what it will take for this country to finally do something about our national shame.
But … This is a country that’s all but shrugged off — at least, politically — the murder of babies inside their own elementary school classrooms. We looked away before that horrific 2012 day in Newtown, Conn. We’ve looked away since.
And let’s be honest, we protect ourselves from what’s happened. Historically, this country has been way more comfortable publicizing the uncensored horrors of other countries than those of our own.
But now here comes the MyLastShot.org campaign, started around the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 12 students and one teacher and left dozens more injured. Students are asking us to look unflinchingly, telling us that if the spineless adults with the power to do something about gun violence fail again, they -- our children -- are willing to put their bodies on the line for a long overdue reckoning.
Like many of the students around the country campaigning for journalists to publish images of people killed by gun violence, Columbine senior Ana Lemus-Paiz, 18, was born in the shadows of the shooting to parents who had fled senseless violence in Guatemala only to see it unfold over and over in their new country.
Their daughter and many of her classmates support a cause that they hope could do for gun reform what the raw photo of Emmett Till, a black teenager lynched in Mississippi in 1955, did for the civil rights movement. They want to place small stickers on their IDs stating, “In the event that I die from gun violence, please publicize the photo of my death.”
We should be ashamed. But these students are done waiting for that.
“This is our reality,” said Lemus-Paiz, “and despite all the school shootings that have happened since Columbine, I don’t think many older generations really get that.”
It’s a tough conversation for some to have, she conceded, with themselves and with their families.
Closer to home, Travon Houston, a student at Philadelphia’s Parkway Center City Middle College, said after considering the My Last Shot sticker, it’s not something he’s comfortable signing up for – at least not yet. Plus, he’s not sure his peers or community are the ones who have to be shocked to attention, considering it’s a reality many live every day. Unfortunately, many of the people with the power, if not the inclination, to make change might need to be.
Over some of her family’s objections, Carmen Pagan has shared on social media some graphic photos of her brother, shot and killed in 2016. She won’t stop, she says.
“People need to see the reality of what it’s like after they killed your loved one, she said “This s- is real. I can’t say it any other way. To talk about something like this happening, maybe we make up our own pictures in our heads, but to actually see the picture, that will never get erased from your mind. There is power behind that, maybe enough power for something to change.”
I write a lot about gun violence, about those killed and those left behind with the pain and trauma that those with the luxury to debate gun reform have often never experienced.
Plenty of photos have accompanied those columns, but never ones as graphic as the images that the students are pushing for. Doing so would no doubt spark lots of debate in and out of my newsroom, but it’s about time we start having that conversation -- especially at the biggest news outlet in a city with a persistent gun-violence problem.
In the meantime, if victims or their families choose to share the photos on their own platforms, the very least we can do is bear witness. Pagan has posted one on her Instagram account, a close-up image of one of the bullet wounds that took her brother’s life.