Americans were still reeling on May 25, a day after the carnage in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old brandishing automatic weapons shot and killed 19 elementary school children and two of their teachers. And emotions were still raw among the union delegates at the Delegate Assembly.
“I want action. I want policy. I want change,” declared a teary Margaret Joyce, the chapter leader at PS 35 in the Bronx, while speaking in favor of a union resolution to stand against gun violence.
The resolution, among other things, calls for more funding for mental health services, school psychologists, social workers and school counselors; and reaffirms the union’s long-standing support for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as well as other gun safety laws. It was approved by a 768-9 margin.
While other topics were discussed and other business dealt with, the latest school shooting dominated the meeting from the opening minutes when UFT President Michael Mulgrew requested a moment of silence for the victims of that horrific event and “all the people who’ve senselessly lost their lives in this tragic way.”
Indeed, as UFT Assistant Secretary Michael Sill noted when introducing the resolution later, the massacre in Uvalde was preceded by mass killings at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, and a church in Laguna Woods, California, on May 15.
“I’m so tired of the pattern of these mass shootings, as I know you are,” Sill said after reading the names of some of the dead.
“I’m so tired of seeing the faces of the dead children and, in their eyes, seeing my children and our students reflected there,” he continued. “I’m tired of hearing that there were warning signs. I’m tired of hearing that it was an AR-15. I’m tired of hearing it was a school or a black church or some other place where people of color gather.”
Identifying herself as a mother of two, Joyce said she kisses her children every morning “because I think it could be the last. That’s the reality we live in. Yesterday was a tragedy, but it was not shocking. It hasn’t been shocking for a while.”
She said the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed 27 lives was shocking and she thought it would become a catalyst for change.
“Instead,” Joyce continued, “it became our new normal.” The Uvalde shooting, she noted, was the 213th mass shooting in the United States this year — and there were nearly 700 in 2021.
Mulgrew said the UFT was working with its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, to plot a national strategy to confront the issue in the face of the failure of the U.S. Congress to enact lifesaving gun-safety measures.
He noted that many New York City public school students and their families deal with the real threat posed by guns off school grounds every day, too. “We’ve experienced so much of our own gun violence here around our schools,” he said.
Mulgrew pointed out that in the Buffalo attack, three members of the UFT’s state affiliate, New York State United Teachers, were murdered — two teachers and a bus aide.
The Delegate Assembly was once again hybrid, with some delegates attending in person at Shanker Hall and others participating by phone.