SPS talks gun safety with prevention panel

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, February 7, 2024

“All of us have to work together to address this issue.” 

These were the words of Suffolk Public Schools Chief Administrative Officer Rodney Brown during the Suffolk Public Schools Gun Violence Awareness Parent and Student Information Night held on Thursday, Feb. 1, at Nansemond River High School.

Despite the modest turnout, there was exceptional passion for gun safety and violence prevention as attending parents, students and panelists each expressed the importance of educating others on gun violence to help keep children and their communities safe. Brown, Suffolk Police Department Interim Chief of Police James Buie, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Heather Emmert and Suffolk Police Department Investigator Kristi Gaines served as the main panel. At the same time, Britta Brown Whitehead and Michael “Mike” J. Jackson provided personal testimonies of how gun violence affected their families. Speaking to attending students, Buie emphasized to them the consequences of being the one pulling the trigger.

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“So when you pick up the firearm and you squeeze the trigger and the bullet leaves the barrel, you are responsible for that bullet,” Buie said. “If it goes past where you intended to shoot and you hit the person behind them, you are responsible for that bullet. Every time.”

Whitehead talked about how the murder of her 20-year-old son, Luis “Lou” Zambrana, Jr., on Sept. 16, 2019, changed her life. Zambrana was shot twice in the back of the head while getting a Gatorade at an Exxon gas station in Newport News. Whitehead says that the individual who shot him, Elijah Armstrong, was stalking him and also catfished her son online, posing as a female. Whitehead thought something like this would never happen to her due to providing a positive upbringing to her son and her family.

“I had my kids in church when they needed to be in church, tried to keep my kids engaged in activities, basketball games, and this came from really someone else outside of our circle — taking my son’s life,” Whitehead said.

Attendees discussed the issue during the audience Q&A. One resident, both a parent and grandparent, expressed how children need to know and understand the consequences of violence and taking someone’s life.

“We need to let the children know [that] once a life is taken, they cannot get it back. Even though they see it on television — today, this person was killed, the next day, they see them in another story — that’s just television. It’s not real life. They need to understand that once a life is taken, it’s gone. That not only hurts them, but it hurts everybody…,” she said. “We need to pay more attention to our children in what they’re looking at on TV, what games they are playing, what they are doing with their life, because it’s not always good. You tell them what you put on [social] media could follow you the rest of your life. They don’t believe it.”

Suffolk School Board Chair Karen Jenkins emphasized the need to start talking to children about gun violence before middle and high school.

“I have had a Pre-K draw a gun and put names where they’re coming out, like on a bullet, so we have to start early,” Jenkins said. “I just don’t want anyone to think, ‘Oh, we’ll start this in middle school and high school.’ We need to start early … Let them know that you love them. Let them know that they can come to you if someone on the outside says something to them. Don’t be afraid to come to the parent, the grandma, the aunt, somebody to talk to.”