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‘The South will rise anew’: TN Rep. Justin Jones of the Tennessee Three visits Raleigh

Protesters hoisted signs reading “Schools are for learning not lockdown” and “Protect children not guns” as Childish Gambino’s “This is America” rang out across Halifax Mall Sunday afternoon.

A crowd of about 80 students, parents and lawmakers had gathered to demand stricter gun laws just days after UNC-Chapel Hill was forced into lockdown for a second time this semester due to an armed person on campus.

“I am ashamed,” state Sen. Natalie Murdock told the crowd. “We are failing you as legislators.”

Murdock, a Democrat representing Durham and Chatham Counties in the General Assembly, said she was saddened to hear about the recent gun violence at her alma mater.

Protester with sign at Halifax Mall on Sept. 17, 2023.
Protester with sign at Halifax Mall on Sept. 17, 2023.

On Aug. 28, professor Zijie Yan was shot and killed at Caudille Labs on UNC’s campus, sending the school into a multi-hour lockdown.

Just 16 days later, UNC went into lockdown again after a man brandished a gun and threatened an employee at Alpine Bagel, a campus cafe.

“Young people are tired of fearing for our lives while just trying to go to class or work,” said Dorian Palmer, president of the Young Democrats of North Carolina. “We’re tired of being the Lockdown Generation.”

Days after the shooting at UNC, students demanded stricter gun laws at the state Capitol and were escorted out of the building.

Palmer urged young people to vote out legislators who ignore public calls for stricter gun laws.

Multiple speakers, including state Sen. Rachel Hunt and state Rep. Wiley Nickels condemned their Republican colleagues for not acting to tighten state gun policy.

As rain poured down on the crowd, the keynote speaker took the stage to thunderous applause and cheers.

Rep. Justin Jones speaking on Halifax Mall.
Rep. Justin Jones speaking on Halifax Mall.

Rep. Justin Jones of Tennessee rose to national attention earlier this year when he and two of his colleagues were expelled from the Tennessee Capitol for speaking up against Republican lawmakers who opposed gun reform in the aftermath of the Covenant school shooting.

As Jones took the stage, he invited all the young people present to stand behind him. Together, he said, Gen Z will be the generation to curb gun violence in America.

“Stand with us. Fight with us,” Jones said. “Get in good trouble because the cycle must be broken.”

Protesters stood on Halifax Mall to call for gun reform on Sept. 17.
Protesters stood on Halifax Mall to call for gun reform on Sept. 17.

Jones and other speakers frequently took aim at Republican lawmakers who receive financial support from gun lobbying groups.

“I want the Republicans in North Carolina, in Tennessee, in the South to know this: That you may hate us. You may attack us. But we are fighting for your children too,” he said.

On the same day as the rally, Lt. Gov Mark Robinson raffled off two Glock handguns and an AR-15 at a campaign event in Mt. Gilead.

“Whether it’s the North Carolina Capitol or the Tennessee Capitol, it seems the GOP stands for the same thing: guns over people,” Jones said.

Jones spoke of the need for “southern solidarity” as similar gun violence issues plague states across the region. He said he believes there is power in a South unified against gun violence, poverty, inequality, oppression and poor access to health care.

“Southern segregationists had a saying that ‘The South will rise again,’” Jones said. “I want you to look at this stage and say, ‘We have a new mandate: The South will rise anew.’”