Javier Martinez’s shooting death was “a testament to our continuing responsibility, our obligation, and our opportunity to combat and prevent gun violence on the streets and the neighborhoods across our country,” in the view of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal. Blumenthal made that point on the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday—using the New Haven shooting death of Martinez, 18, as a call to action on addressing gun violence. Click here to read about Martinez (pictured), a beloved student at Common Ground High School; read on for the transcript of Blumenthal’s full remarks. Click on the video to watch Blumenthal deliver the speech.
Many of us have come back from a couple of wonderful weeks in our home states, traveling and visiting with families and had the privilege of spending time with loved ones and sharing our hopes and plans for the new year. Not everyone was so fortunate. I rise today to honor the memory of yet another tragic victim of gun violence in Connecticut and our country.
On December 28 in New Haven, shortly before the beginning of this new year, one family’s time together with their son was cut short when Javier Martinez was shot and killed. And his picture is here, his memory is with us today as I ask this body to honor him along with other victims of gun violence who have died since Newtown and who have died before Newtown and who I ask to be remembered, not only in words but also in action by this body so that Javier shall not have died in vain.
He was only 18 years he old. He was a senior at Common Ground High School in New Haven, one of the really extraordinary educational institutions in our state. His teachers and classmates describe him as a kind, intelligent young man who was becoming a leader in the school and in his community. He had a bright future. In fact, he had the whole world, his whole life ahead of him. At Common Ground, a charter school that focuses on sustainability and connecting students with natural resources in our community and in their own communities, he was absolutely thriving.
I’ve heard that some of his classmates and teachers at Common Ground are perhaps watching right now or will watch at some point and I want to thank them for joining in honoring his memory and continuing his work to make our planet, our world, our nation and the community of New Haven better and keeping faith with his memory.
Javier cared about his community and the environment and the issues of sustainability and clean air and clean water, and he took action to improve the world around him. Last summer, he participated in a highly competitive internship at the nature conservancy where he worked to protect endangered species, a director of this program regarded Javier as one of the most outstanding participants that the program ever had. And he spent last spring planting trees, planting trees with the New Haven urban resources initiative. He planted trees that he will never sit under, but the world will be better for all that he did. One small act, one small part of what Javier did to make New Haven and the world better. And this fall he joined a crew of West River stewards, identifying and documenting sources of pollution along the West River in the New Haven area.
Not only did he have a bright future ahead of him, but he knew what he wanted. He was pursuing the American Dream, he was seeking and working to make America a better place for him and for his fellow students at Common Ground. And by all accounts, he was not only dedicated, hardworking, but he had a good heart. He had a great sense of himself, he stayed out of trouble, he had no criminal record whatsoever, it goes without saying, and he worked hard at his studies. He was loved in New Haven by his classmates, by his teachers, by all who knew him. And he had a growing dedication to protecting that world. Unfortunately, our society failed to protect him. Failed to protect him during the simple act of walking home. Failed to protect him from gun violence. Failed to protect him in a neighborhood where he thought he would be safe as he walked.
On that early morning of December 28, shortly before 1:00 a.m., he was found shot to death on the streets of New Haven. And, in fact, he was walking from his house to a friend’s house. He didn’t have a car, so his only choice was to walk. He sustained multiple gunshot wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene. Police are continuing to investigate. I have no doubt that they are working hard and the New Haven police have been extraordinarily responsive and responsible in combating gun violence so I know they are going to get answers here. Whether they will ever get enough answers to prosecute someone remains to be seen but I know they are dedicated to finding out what happened on that night.
The death of Javier Martinez is a tragedy, heartbreaking, as heartbreaking as many of the random deaths in America resulting from gun violence. This young man is a testament to our continuing responsibility, our obligation, and our opportunity to combat and prevent gun violence on the streets and the neighborhoods across our country.
Just a few weeks ago I spoke on this floor in this very place about another promising young person from Connecticut who was killed by a person with a gun whose name was Erika Robinson. The victim of that crime, Erika Robinson, just like Javier, was killed because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. And we ought to remember some of the other victims. We should keep in mind all of the now tens of thousands, just since Newtown, who maybe survived but who are changed and challenged in ways they never could have envisioned their lives have been changed forever.
Amber Smith, who worked as a manager in the New Haven Burger King restaurant was shot on December 13, 2013 when two robbers entered that Burger King. The robbers demanded that she open a safe in the business, and one of them shot her in the upper hip through her leg. She was just 19 years old at the time, September 15, 2013. And she remembers that she was thinking she was going to die. And wondering who would take care of her two small children. She almost bled to death but was saved fortunately by receiving surgery in the emergency room. So she survived the shooting but she lives with the psychological and the physical trauma of that shooting every day.
These random acts of violence may not always make the national news, they may not always take a life, but they change lives and they take lives, one, two at a time and that shooting death of Javier Martinez and Erika Robinson has become all too often the mundane evil of our time, the banality of evil is found in gun violence, and we seem to accept it all too often with indifference as another news item. And yet it should be as repugnant and abhorrent and unacceptable as the deaths of 20 innocent children in Newtown and six great educators because every act of gun violence diminishes us as a nation and as a community.
Our country has come to the point that gun violence can happen anywhere. If your life hasn’t been touched by it, there’s a near certainty it will be at some point, tragically, unfortunately, because far too often communities suffer in silence, and we need to end that silence. We need to end the inaction and the acceptance of this mundane and banal evil that lives among us. While we have failed to act in this chamber, even though we had a majority of 55 senators ready to approve, very simple, commonsense measures to stop gun violence, the president has done what he can through executive actions most recently on mental health, I commend him for those actions. He has done what he can to strengthen federal background checks for firearms purchases. I thank him for that action. These changes are incremental, but they are steps in the right direction.
And states have taken the leadership on this issue as well, maybe even more so than the federal government. My own state of Connecticut, laudably, has passed laws to effectively ban, for example, the sale of assault weapons. But this body and this government needs to act. The federal government has a responsibility that only it can address because we know that guns are trafficked across state lines, stolen, and illegally bought guns are trafficked across state lines, and no single state can put a stop to it. We know that without action in this body, mental health will remain an unmet need in…We know that without action in this body, mental health will remain an unmet need in this country. We know that without action in this country, background checks for people who buy firearms will be incomplete and inadequate.
And so Javier’s death should be a reminder and a call to action, and as the people of his family and New Haven mourn his death, we should celebrate his contributions in making our planet better, in protecting the precious resources that, unfortunately, he was unable to enjoy, and resolve to protect better the innocent people, particularly our children, who at any moment, at any place may become victims of gun violence.