WASHINGTON, D.C. – “I know first-hand about gun violence and the lasting impact it can have on a family, community, and even a nation,” Trenton resident Regina Thompson-Jenkins said to a crowd of several thousand people gathered on the western lawn of the U.S. Capitol Thursday evening to “Speak Out” against gun violence.
Jenkins was one of around 60 people from central New Jersey that boarded a bus at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Calhoun Street in the afternoon to make the trek to the nation’s capital to be part of the rally.
Sponsored locally by U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12, the bus carried people hoping to make a difference and end what they feel is preventable bloodshed by passing stricter gun control laws and also stop what they see as systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives put on the rally, which featured groups from around the nation, each with a story to tell about loved ones gunned down.
It was also to demand house Republicans to come back into session and work on legislation including stricter background checks and denying the mentally ill the ability to purchase guns.
The Republican majority adjourned the session for seven weeks at the end of June despite a “sit in” by Democrats to try and prevent ending the session and moving forward on the legislation.
Jenkins lost her son Tre Lane, 19, in September 2012 while he was on the porch of a city home.
According to published reports at the time, Lane, who was working as a security guard for a company in Princeton Junction and attending classes at a community college, was shot once in the chest while trying to shield two women from two gunmen around 3 a.m. on Sept. 22.
“He was my only child,” Jenkins said, holding back tears as she spoke. “Tre died a hero, but that doesn’t take away my pain. This is personal for me.”
She said that her story could be the story of anyone in the crowd and that she still feels like she has to defend her son’s character following the tragedy.
“Not all black and brown children have their pants hanging down, not all black and brown children are in gangs,” she said. “Yet, my son was a victim of gun violence and I’m standing before you as a grieving mother.”
As a result, she said she would never see him graduate from college, get married or have grandchildren.
“I will never know the reason why someone chose to shoot into a crowd of people and take the love of my life, my pride, and my joy,” she said.
The different stories from people in communities including New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida and California, all had the common theme of loss by gunfire, but were each from different circumstances like the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, to the lone shooters in Newtown, Connecticut and Charleston, South Carolina.
A group of several hundred “Black Lives Matter” protestors marched to the capitol from the White House where they had been protesting throughout the hot and humid day, adding about a third more to the rally.
Other officials speaking at the rally included Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal, and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.
Lewis, who led the sit in last month, told the crowd that they need to use their votes to hold the Republicans accountable and regain a majority in the house and senate in the November elections.
A small group of five counter protestors were also on the lawn, holding up signs denouncing the Democrats attempts to pass stricter gun laws that they see as a threat to the second amendment right to bear arms.
Members of that group refused to be interviewed for this story, saying that the media was in the pockets of the Democrats and the anti-gun agenda.
As darkness fell on the capitol lawn, attendees held cell phones high, singing “This Little Light of Mine” while waving the devices.
That was followed by a repeated chant of “Black Lives Matter” from that group of protestors.
Coleman joined the Central Jersey delegation at the end of the event to thank them for showing up and supporting the cause.
“You gave of your time to come down here, 97 degrees at night, so that we don’t have to have any more mothers losing sons, or fathers losing daughters,” Coleman said to the delegation before the bus pulled out to return to New Jersey. “We have got to change our congress.”
Among the attendees from New Jersey, South Brunswick resident and Board of Education member Azra Baig, said she attended to encourage congress to pass the proposed legislation and help bring an end to the carnage throughout the nation.
“There has to be legislation that speaks to stricter background checks (on weapon purchases) and restricting individuals with criminal records or a history of domestic violence or mental illness from buying guns.”
She said that not having “such easy access” to guns, especially at gun shows, would help the problem.
“You can’t just go in and get it without having anyone look at your records,” she said. “So many lives have been lost to senseless gun violence.”