Converting ‘pain into purpose’ in wake of massacre, gun violence activists meet in Highland Park
Brittany Wroblewski, near the epicenter of the massacre said, after the first shots were fired, “I will never forget the suspicious, hazy hush that swept over the crowd for those first couple of pops.”
“We are all now part of the club nobody wants to be a part of,” said Lauren Brown, a former elementary school teacher, who, with Alexi Vahlkamp, a social worker, were the co-organizers of a Tuesday night meeting in Highland Park of a local chapter of a gun violence prevention group, Moms Demand Action.
Brown is speaking to about 140 people — mostly women — gathered in the main sanctuary of Makom Solel Lakeside, a synagogue in Highland Park, as 227 watched on the livestream. Some 515 people registered for the event, with the high interest, of course, sparked by the Highland Park July 4 parade massacre, where a gunman killed seven and wounded dozens of others with an assault rifle.
Brown and Vahlkamp are new to gun violence prevention activism.
About a month ago, they decided to revive the Highland Park-Deerfield Moms Demand Action group after the May mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman using an assault weapon in a school killed 19 students and two teachers. Moms Demand Action — like so many groups working to curb gun violence — was spawned in the wake of tragedy, founded after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people were killed in Newtown, Connecticut.
After Brown and Vahlkamp jumped in to organize the local Moms Demand Action group, as fate would have it, there was a mass shooting in their own backyard.
The club that you never want to be a member of is the club consisting of people whose lives have been changed because of gun violence — whether through a mass shooting or the chronic gun violence Chicago has been battling for years.
The main agenda item for the group is pushing for changes in gun laws in Springfield and Congress, and the audience got a short course in lobbying.
When it comes to shootings, a survivor is, well, everybody who was at the event — from the physically wounded to people carrying deep emotional scars.
Laurie Akers, the cantor at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills and a Deerfield native, one of the speakers, said, “Tonight we are gathering with both heavy hearts and very troubled minds. And it can be trying, to think of comforting our children and our loved ones and our communities when we are all still processing and trying to comfort ourselves as well.”
Brittany Wroblewski, of Highland Park, a sales vice president at a tech firm in Chicago, was at the parade with her family, including her 2-year-old son. Wroblewski and her son were near the epicenter of the violence — the Walker Bros. pancake restaurant at Port Clinton Square — and were making their way to meet family by the Dairy Queen when the first shots were fired, the first of what turned out to be 83 bullets shot in about a minute.
“The shots were fired. I will never forget the suspicious, hazy hush that swept over the crowd for those first couple of pops. It was like the worse-case scenario had crossed all of our minds, but we just couldn’t believe it. A gun? A shooter in Highland Park at a family parade? It just couldn’t be true. What felt like a long drawn-out minute was actually just seconds and the terror and screams erupted,” Wroblewski recalled.
Her family, she said, was lucky that morning “in a million different ways. If one small detail was adjusted, our fate could have been drastically different. Fate was tragically different for many people, friends and community members here in Highland Park and across the North Shore.”
Wroblewski closed the loop as she concluded her remarks, as she turned to the matter at hand in this meeting — converting the massacre into activism to change laws to prevent more gun violence.
Said Wroblewski, “What I do know and what history has proved over and over again is that pain can be converted to purpose.”
CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER BRIEFS SENATE PANEL ON ASSAULT WEAPONS
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Angel Novalez, chief of Constitutional Policing and Reform at the Chicago Police Department, testified about police recovering more assault style weapons used in city crimes.
Durbin asked him about the types of guns used in Chicago crimes.
Said Novalez, “What we are seeing is an increase in firepower. ... We are seeing more assault style weapons being used. It is incredibly scary for our officers to know that they have to go out there and be out-manned.”