TAMPA, Fla. — Saturday marks 10 years to the day that unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman in Seminole County Florida.
Zimmerman was pursuing Martin in a gated community in which the boy’s father lived. After an alleged physical altercation, Zimmerman admitted to shooting and killing Martin.
A jury ruled that Zimmerman acted in self-defense. That case helped launch the Black Lives Matter movement that has pushed for equality and police reforms across the country for nearly a decade now.
But on the streets of Tampa Bay, gun violence is still shaking up the lives of so many families.
“My son's name is Marquis Scott. He was a former Northeast High School football Allstar and went off to school, came back and got himself in a situation where some guys who he thought was his friends killed him,” said Maress Scott.
His son, commonly called Quis, was 20-years-old, shot and killed at the intersection of Yale and Queensboro streets in South St Petersburg in 2019.
“I just had dinner with him,” Scott recalled, “And I got a call that he was shot and to run to the hospital, and my brother in law told me… they're over there pumping him and pumping him full of bullets.”
Statistics show a startling reality. As of 2020, firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in America — a thousand more than motor vehicles, and 4,000 more than COVID-19 deaths, according to the nonprofit EVERYTOWN for Gun Safety.
In Hillsborough County specifically, the Children Board found a 120% increase in children admitted to hospitals with gunshot wounds from 2019 to 2020.
“A lot of parents call me when their kids experience gun violence,” Scott said. “I've sat in that same room down at Bayfront hospital where I was told my son was no longer here, I sit with other parents you know, and I heard that message and, and, it's never easy to hear, even when it’s not my child.”
Scott started a nonprofit called Quis for Life, doing things like going door to door with a pledge against gun violence and hosting retreats in Pinellas County Schools.
But gun violence is a broad term, from street shootings to suicides, and even one that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement— Martin.
“He had his entire future ahead of him and was gunned down in such a senseless way,” said Gail Powell-Cope, the Tampa Bay Co-leader for Moms Demand Action. “We have to acknowledge the fact that the Shoot First or Stand Your Ground law in Florida has had a significant impact for the worse.”
Florida’s Stand Your Ground law passed in 2005 and permits people to use deadly force if they feel their life or another person is in danger.
The law states: “A person who uses or threatens to use deadly force… has the right to stand his or her ground if the person… is not engaged in a criminal activity and is in a place where he or she has a right to be.”
While Zimmerman was acquitted on self-defense and not Stand Your Ground, Moms Demand Action advocates say the law creates an attitude of shooting first without thought and claiming self-defense later.
“What we find in Florida is that there are more gun deaths after that law passed,” she said.
Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has provided ammo too.
The Gun Violence Archive found a 30% increase in gun violence from March 2020 to 2021 compared to the year before crediting psychological stress and an increase in firearm sales.
“It is sad when me, as a person living with a diagnosed mental illness, can get a gun sooner than I can see a psychiatrist. When I can get a gun, use a gun, have a gun faster than I'm able to, to receive services,” Natasha Pierre, a mental health advocate in Tampa Bay explained.
“The reality is that yes, it is a right for Americans to have their own guns but how does that right look, especially when it could possibly infringe on the safety and the freedom of someone else? And when it could be used to harm yourself or another, how does that look?” Pierre added.
Scott said he’s seeing a lot more youth dealing with mental health issues that they don’t have anyone to speak to about. He is adding a mental health component to his training, with a new contract to do after-school programs in parks, he is hoping parents and family will attend as well to help in facilitating conversations in the home as well.
“We have to see more practice of love, and everyone has to do their part. There's no one organization that can do one thing that's going to be a fix for all. We need all hands on deck. Everybody who has an idea whether it's a cookout on the street, whether it's going down and cutting your neighbor's grass, anybody who has an idea to be kind and socialize with your neighbor to relieve the stress of not spending time with each other… we need to do that,” Scott pleaded.
“I'm going to call it a liberated love for our neighbors in our community. That's how we're going to overcome. How do we stop us from killing us? By stopping us from killing us with love,” he concluded.
Scott is still looking for support and financial help. You can contact him at email@example.com.
On Sunday, Feb. 27, Moms Demand Action is holding A Day of Action at 10 locations across the state to advocate for changes in legislation.
A group will gather at Macfarlane Park in Tampa at 2:30 p.m.
Their other action points include rejecting the expansion of permitless carry and funding Community Violence Protection Programs.
Children's Board asks that parents and caregivers keep guns safe at home. Their tips include:
- Safely store your gun in a secure lockbox or gun safe (ensure children and teens cannot access the keys or code to unlock where the gun or ammunition is stored);
- All guns need to be unloaded and locked. Store ammunition in a locked location separate from firearms;
- Double-check firearms to confirm that they are unloaded when you remove them from storage. Potential accidents could occur if a family member borrows a gun and returns it to storage while still loaded.