Letter from Karen: Something Must Change

I gave my blood yesterday for this young man, and his sweet baby—and for countless other victims of gun violence and the family members who survived them. I answered the call to give at the mobile blood drive in honor of the El Paso shooting victims because 53 years ago this twenty-three-year-old man heroically answered the call to stop a sniper on top of the Tower at the University of Texas. He was shot by the sniper, and I am told, that the shot would not have been fatal, had someone been able to reach him to stop his bleeding. He, like many others that day, lay bleeding to death in the hot Texas sun as the sniper picked off would-be rescuers one by one.   


His name was Billy Paul Speed. He was my uncle. I was robbed of the pleasure of getting to meet and know him personally, but I have loved him and mourned him and have known his loss through my father, my grandmother, and my dear cousin. Billy was a police officer. But he was a father and a husband and a son and a little brother, too. He was a wonderful photographer. He loved the ocean. He loved his family. I think he was a paratrooper (this is the problem with piecing things together—it’s difficult to ask for details, because the pain is unspeakable, but still palpable 53 years later.)

His death forever changed my family. 

I gave my blood because I felt compelled to do something. We are changed, but 53 years later, it feels like little else has changed. More families have been added to this very sad club of survivors. The story of Baby Paul in El Paso who survived the shooting, but lost his young mother and father hit me to my core. And 15-year-old Javier Rodriguez. I wonder how his mother learned of his murder? Was it like my grandmother—who heard it on the radio while she was working at the beauty shop? When my father heard of Billy’s murder, he also felt compelled to do something. Mom tells me that she and my Aunt Margaret locked him in a room to keep him from picking up a shotgun to try to take down the sniper himself. They stopped him because they knew it was futile. 


I know my blood donation is also futile. The blood will keep for 42 days. I’m told they will use all of it—and it could save up to three different people. But it will do nothing to prevent the addition of new members to the sad club of families who lose loved ones to gun violence. Last week was the anniversary of the University of Texas Tower shooting, and three new mass shootings were added to the infamous list—Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. There are far too many other cities for my human brain to recall. Half a century later, and nothing has changed except the frequency with which these terrible tragedies are happening. It hit my family a second time in 1989 when my cousin, Alvin Parsons (who introduced me to the joy of Canadian bacon pizza with pineapple) was killed with another man in his Coca Cola office in Atlanta after an employee was fired. The pain is unfathomable.


Hardening targets has not helped. Open Carry. Concealed Carry. We have that in Texas, but action is faster than reaction. Police killed the Dayton shooter within 30 seconds after he started firing, but within these precious seconds, he killed nine people and wounded 27 others. It seems that, in Texas, all of the proposed solutions fall into this vein—arming more people with deadly weapons. It isn’t helping. 


I find it morosely ironic that over-the-counter decongestants I purchase to help me and my family breathe are better regulated than deadly bullets which are actually designed to kill. Somewhere there is a record that shows the date, time and limited quantity of Claritin-D that I have purchased, but no record of these shooters’ ammunition purchases.


We all deserve to feel safe. We should be able to attend church and school—go to work or grocery shopping, relax in a restaurant or at the movies and in night clubs, play a game of softball, or just walk down the street—without fear of being gunned down. We should never have to worry that we’ve sent off our child, or spouse, or parent or friend off to pursue these benign activities never to return again. 


I have written my Congressman and both of my Senators. You can contact yours, too. 


Let them know that this issue matters to you this week, and it will next week, and the week after that, too. This is not a partisan issue. It’s a human need for safety that only our government can solve during a crisis that has reached epidemic levels.


I do not pretend to have all of the answers, but I know this—something must change—or nothing that matters ever will. 


Find your Representative and Senators here.

Most Sincerely, 

Karen Miller, Executive Director

Texas Legal Services Center

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