Woman with back to camera wearing an End Gun Violence t-shirt
Everytown for Gun Safety

Gun violence

Photo by Everytown for Gun Safety

I Wear Orange to Honor My Cousin’s Memory

Gun violence disproportionately affects Black women, like this young author's cousin, a massage therapist shot and killed by her client. This is her story.

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You know the names: Jordan Davis, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery. Or maybe you know the names of someone else who was shot and killed by senseless gun violence. But, you probably don’t know my cousin Jasmine. This is her story.

In March 2016, Jasmine, a massage therapist, entered a home to work on a new client in Florida. Her boyfriend waited for her in the car during the appointment. When she was done with the massage, the client didn’t want her to leave. 

He blocked the door. He wouldn’t let her go. 

She texted her boyfriend and he tried to come in to get her. As they were about to get in the car, the client came out with a gun. He tried to shoot her boyfriend, and instead shot and killed my cousin Jasmine. 

Just like that, my high-energy, life-of-the-party cousin was taken from us. My family was without a ray of sunshine. Her two kids were without their mother. And I was without one of the people who made me feel at home no matter where we were—at family reunions or big gatherings. She knew how to make you feel seen, heard, and loved. 

In an average year, over a thousand Black women die by gun violence in our country. You never think it could happen to someone you know. You never imagine that if it did happen that someone would get off scot free. At least, I didn’t. After Jasmine was killed, the shooter was acquitted using a so-called “Stand Your Ground” defense, and our family never received the justice we deserve. I say “so-called” because the law is nothing more than an excuse and encouragement to shoot first and ask questions later.  

This weekend marks the 7th annual Wear Orange Weekend. Wear Orange began on June 2, 2015—what would have been Hadiya Pendleton’s 18th birthday. Hadiya’s friends were looking for a way to honor her after she was shot and killed on a Chicago playground, and chose the color orange because it’s what hunters wear to protect themselves and others in the woods. Today, Wear Orange honors Hadiya and the more than 100 Americans shot and killed and more than 230 shot and wounded every day. 

I #WearOrange to honor Hadiya, Jasmine, and the thousands of other Black people who are killed by senseless gun violence each year. I’m also working to honor the families and friends who’ve had loved ones taken by gun violence and didn’t receive justice. The people like my family who deserved better.  

Research shows that “Stand Your Ground” laws are associated with an increase in firearm homicide rates and an increase in nonfatal firearm injuries resulting in emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Yet, since 2005, 27 states—including my home state of Georgia—have passed these dangerous laws. These laws are inherently dangerous for everyone, but disproportionately impact the lives of Black people.

Gun violence already disproportionately affects Black people in the United States. In fact, Black children and teens, like myself, are more than 14 times more likely to die by gun homicide than white children and teens. In Black communities that see disproportionate levels of gun violence, there is collective trauma in addition to the hurt and suffering individuals experience. When I think of my cousin Jasmine, and other kids like Hadiya, I see myself in their shoes. Their stories could have been mine. 

That’s why I turned my grief into action by joining Students Demand Action, after becoming a member of a club comprising millions of survivors that no one asked to belong to—a survivor of gun violence. The gun-violence-prevention movement is personal to me, as it is for so many of us. It drives my passion to make sure that no other woman—especially a Black woman—ends up dead or wounded like Jasmine or Hadiya. 

This weekend as you see influencers, elected officials, and others in your community wearing orange and posting about #WearOrange on social media, think of Jasmine and her life. Think of Hadiya. Think of the other thousands of other people who were shot and killed before their lives even began. 

We can do better. We must prioritize protecting Black people, including young Black women, from gun violence, and that includes fighting dangerous laws that promote racist vigilantism like so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws and combatting city gun violence.  

It’s past time to start protecting Black lives. We must honor the lives taken like Jasmine, Hadiya, Ahmaud, Breonna, and Jordan while fighting for action to make sure it doesn’t continue to happen. We can prevent gun violence—we just need action.

feature author LaTayla Billingslea standing in front of a wall with John Lewis' signature on it
Photo of the author, LaTayla Billingslea


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