June 15, 2016

Senator Warren Speaks About Orlando Attack on LGBT Club, Calls for Congress to Come Together to Address Gun Violence and Terrorism

Video of the speech is available here.

Washington, DC - In remarks today on the Senate floor, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Senate Democrats during a filibuster to call for action to address gun violence following the recent attack on an LGBT nightclub in Orlando. In her remarks, Senator Warren spoke about the need for our country to come together to drive out hate from our communities, to reduce gun violence, and to fight terrorism. The full text of her remarks is below, and video of her remarks is available here.

Senator Elizabeth Warren
Remarks on the Senate Floor
June 15, 2016

Last Saturday, I was in Boston for our annual pride parade. You know Pride is an institution in Boston - this year marked our 46th annual march.  I have gone to pride for years, and when I go, I don't march.  I dance.  I dance with people - young people and old people, black people and white people, Asian people and Latino people, gay people and straight people, bisexual people and transgender people, queer people. The parade has everything - it has intricate floats, marching bands, elaborate costumes, tons of onlookers. One Boston reporter called our parade "pure joy" - and he is right.

I love Boston's Pride Parade. I love it as much as anything I've done as a U.S. Senator.  For me, this parade is the tangible demonstration of what happens when we turn away from darkness and division and turn toward our best selves. When we turn toward each other.  It shows us what this nation looks like when we are at our best.  Inclusive. Strong. United. Optimistic. Proud.  It shows us what this nation looks like when beat back hate and embrace each other.

Early Sunday morning, at around 2am, someone tried to take that away from us. It wasn't the first time.  It was the most recent -- and it was extreme and horrible and shocking.  Dozens of lives lost. Dozens more injured.

All across our country, we grieve for those lost and for their families and for their loved ones.  And this is especially true in Massachusetts.  Three years ago, the people of Boston came face to face with terror at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  The cowardly attack and its aftermath took lives, injured people, and forever changed a beloved tradition.  This week, two more people with Massachusetts' roots were killed in Orlando - and at least two more were wounded.

  • 37-year old Kimberly "KJ" Morris, who was working the door at Pulse, had lived in Northampton, Massachusetts for more than a decade, performing in nightclubs and working at Amherst College and Smith College. She had recently moved to Florida to help take care of her mother and grandmother.
  • 23-year old Stanley Almodovar, a pharmacy tech, spent his childhood in Springfield, Massachusetts. He came out of the bathroom at Pulse just as bullets were flying.  He pushed people out of harm's way as he was shot three times.
  • A third Massachusetts native who survived the massacre was also shot three times. Angel Colon of Framingham, Massachusetts was shot in the leg, the hand and the hip. He is alive today, according to Colon, only because the gunman missed his head as he shot those who were lying on the floor to make sure they were dead.  
  • 37-year-old Geoffrey Rodriguez, raised in Leominster, remains in critical condition.  Rodriguez was shot three times. As of Tuesday, he had undergone three surgeries. His family is optimistic that he will pull through. All of us, from Massachusetts and all across the nation, are rooting for him.

You know there are still things we don't know about the shooter. We don't know about his planning, and his motives-things we may never know.  But here's what we do know.  We know that the shooter called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS, declaring his intention to be known in history as a terrorist.  We know he carried an assault style weapon that was designed for soldiers to carry in war. And we also know that hundreds of people in Orlando went to the Pulse nightclub to continue the celebration of Pride, and that the shooter targeted them to die.  

I woke up Sunday morning still in the glow of the Boston Pride Parade.  Boy, that ended fast, but I thought about the history of Pride.  In the 1960s, the mere act of publicly associating with the LGBT community was considered radical. That was true even in places where the community came together to seek strength and protection, like New York's Greenwich Village.

Greenwich Village's Stonewall Inn was one of the most popular gay bars in New York - and it was regularly raided by police officers who arrested patrons for any number of bureaucratic violations obviously designed to harass, embarrass and abuse people whose only crime was to want a place to be together. And one night, in late June of 1969, the bar's patrons fought back. The rioting continued intermittently for five nights, and it wasn't pretty. It reflected the demands of a group for equality, for the same chances that other Americans have to be themselves.

A few months after that, LGBT activists began planning for the first Pride march. It was set for the following June, to commemorate the Stonewall uprising. The idea was to use that anniversary as an opportunity for the community to remind us all that they, too, are citizens - they, too, get to have some fun, and they, too, are entitled to the same dignity and respect as every other American. Over the years, the tradition expanded across this great nation, just as tolerance and acceptance expanded across this great nation. Pride both helped us move forward and showed us how far we have moved together.

When terrible things like the Orlando shooting happen, we face important choices -- as a country, as individuals and as a community.  When terrible things happen, we had to choose how we respond to them. And all of us will decide whether we  are going to come together or splinter apart.  

We can become a country, a country that is defined by fear and hate - fear of each other, hatred for anyone who is different from ourselves. In the America of fear and hate, we will alienate and isolate entire communities, creating even more fear and hate - and threatening further violence. We will fracture as a people, splintering off into separate groups, each fearing others, each seeking to serve only themselves.

Or we can make the choice to come together. We can choose that no community - no community of immigrants, no community of Muslims, no community of young men-is isolated in this country. We can do this knowing that when we embrace each other and build one people out of many, we become a stronger country. Stronger because the bonds of community prevent alienation. Stronger because the bonds of community make it harder to turn us against each other and break us apart. Stronger because the bonds of community mean people can get help before its too late.

We cannot ignore the fact that this massacre targeted an LGBT club, and we should learn from that - and from the message of Pride.  In Orlando, an act of terrorism was also an act of hate, visited upon people who came together in friendship and celebration.  But the patriots at Stonewall showed us the way:  they gave birth to a movement that changed a nation.  They beat back hate. They showed us that change-change for the better-is possible.  They showed everyone that love can triumph over fear and hate - that we can all come together - but, boy, they showed us that you've got to to work at it.

This is not an abstract idea. When it comes to our response to the tragedy in Orlando, we are already beginning to see the splintering of America. One side shouts, "It was a gun that killed all of those people." The other side shouts, "It wasn't a gun - it was a terrorist that killed all of those people." And through all of the shouting, we miss what should be obvious.

It was a terrorist with a gun that killed all those people. A terrorist with hate in his heart and a gun in his hand that killed all those people.  It is time for us to acknowledge all of these truths, and to come together to address them.

First, we must take the threat of terrorism seriously. We must continue to stop the flow of money to terrorist groups and to work with our allies to stop the movement of terrorists and disrupt hubs of radicalization abroad. And here at home, we need to make sure our law enforcement agencies have the resources they need - funding, training, equipment.  But we also need to make sure we have the resources to analyze and counter radical propaganda.  The war on terror is now fought online and we need to put our best forces online to fight back. we need to work with people in our local communities - not isolate or demonize them - to stop radicalization before it starts and to prevent tragedies before they occur, and to show that nobody is kept out of the American family because of how they look or talk or pray.

Second, we must take the threat from guns seriously. Our nation is awash in the weapons of murder, and there are many things that we must do to address that.  We can ban Rambo-style assault weapons.  We can take these weapons of war off our streets.  We can also close the terror gap.

The FBI should have the authority to block gun sales to anyone that they believe is a terrorist. If someone cannot get on an airplane because the FBI is concerned they might be plotting to do harm against Americans, then they shouldn't be able to walk into a store and buy a Rambo-style assault weapons. We believe we can close the background checks loophole. Anyone who cannot buy a gun because of a felony conviction or a mental illness should not be able to go to a gun show or go online and buy that same gun.

We can act to make the next shooting less likely. We can act to reduce the likelihood that a disturbed individual, a criminal, or a terrorist is again able to kill dozens, again, with a gun.  And if we fail to act, the next time someone uses a gun to kill one of us, a gun that we could have kept out of the hands of a terrorist, then the members of this Congress will have blood on our hands.  

But the truth is, this is not just about Congress - it is about all of us.  We all have choices.  WE have choices about how we are going to treat our neighbors and our fellow citizens.  Choices about what we do when someone is targeted at a coffee shop because of their background or their looks or their race.  Choices about how we react when a friend or a co-worker - a son or a daughter - tells us the truth about who they love.  Choices about how we treat our neighbors and fellow citizens who don't look or talk or pray like we do.

It is a scary world out there.  We all know that.  Terrorism mutates into new and more dangerous forms.  Terrorists have easy assault, easy access to assault weapons that put us all at risk.  And hate-plain, old-fashioned, naked, ugly hate-still lurks in dark corners.  

It is a scary world, but America is strongest when we work together. And all of us will decide whether we come together or splinter apart.  

We can keep weapons out of those who would do us harm.  We can make it harder for terrorism to take root in this country.  We can drive the forces of hate out of our nation.  We can build a stronger, more united America.

And we can begin right here in the United States Senate.  We can begin right now.