Over the summer, the Pulse Nightclub tragedy garnered national attention as the worst mass shooting in modern American history. And, while it’s certainly influenced the lives affected by the massacre, the incident is also influencing legislative issues for the 2017 session.
Two months after the Pulse nightclub shooting, survivor Angel Colon joyously took his first steps on his own, since the tragedy.
The deadly June attack left 49 people dead and more than 50 injured, after gunman Omar Mateen shot up the gay nightclub. Colon was one of those shot multiple times.
“And, unfortunately, I was shot about three times in my leg,” Colon said, during a June press conference. “So, I had fallen down. I tried to get back up. But, everyone started running everywhere. I got trampled over, and I shattered and broke my bones in my left leg. So, by this time, I couldn’t walk at all. All I could do was just lay down there, while everyone was running on top of me trying to get to where they had to be.”
And, when the gunman circled back to make sure everyone was dead, Colon was shot again.
“I can hear the gun shots closer, and I look over and he shoots the girl next to me,” he added. “And, I’m just there laying down and I’m thinking, ‘I’m next, I’m dead.’ So, I don’t know how. But, by the glory of God he shoots toward my head and he hits my hand. And, then he shoots me again and it hits the side of my hip. I had not reaction. I was just prepared to stay there, laying down. So, they wouldn’t know I’m alive. ”
Later, Eatonville Police Officer Omar Delgado—who now considers Colon a brother—pulled him to safety.
“He grabs my hand, and he’s like ‘this is the only way I can take you out,’” said Colon. “I’m like, ‘please, carry me, I’m in pain.’ So, he starts to drag me out across the street to the Wendy’s. I’m grateful for him, but the floor is just covered in glass. So, he’s dragging me out, while I’m just getting cut, my behind, my back, my legs. I don’t feel pain, but I just feel all this blood on me from myself, from my other people, and he just drops me off across the street, and I look over and there’s just bodies everywhere. We’re all in pain.”
And, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) says there are similar stories out there of people who are still uninsured and in need of proper care, especially mental health care.
“Just imagine this: not only having to deal with Post Traumatic Stress, because to save yourself and to survive, that horrific tragedy, you had to climb over the dead bodies of others to make it out the front door so that you wouldn’t lose your own life and how traumatic that experience can be,” said Guillermo Smith. “Compound that with the reality that many of these survivors, not only did that, but lost some of their best friends and are grieving, on top of that.”
Guillermo Smith is a former legislative director for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender, or LGBT group Equality Florida. And, as a newly elected Florida House lawmaker, he’s also making history.
“The first LGBT Latino lawmaker in Florida’s history,” he said. “That’s something that has new meaning, after Pulse because 90 percent of the victims were Latino. And, most of them were LGBTQ. Our community—the queer Latinx community—has never had a seat at the table in state government. And, now that we do, there are a lot of issues that affect our community that I understand as someone who sits at that intersection of oppression.”
So, Guillermo Smith says among the legislative causes he’ll be championing as a result of Pulse is gun safety.
“Like other minority communities, LGBT Floridians are the target of hate violence and that problem has been compounded by easy access to assault weapons and that was a deadly combination as we saw in Pulse,” he added. “We saw a radical American homophobe, who decided he wanted to inflict this horrific act of violence, particularly against LGBT people of color. And, he was able to enter a nightclub and use a weapon—which I would consider a weapon of mass destruction, and within minutes take the lives of 49 people.”
He says he’s also considering sponsoring the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, a bill barring employers from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Especially in a world where now after the tragedy of Pulse, people are wondering what type of state do we live in,” Guillermo Smith added. “And, that’s why I think it’s so important that the Legislature and that our state leaders including the Governor send a message that Florida is a place that does not tolerate discrimination against anyone including gay and transgender Floridians. And, they should do that by passing the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.”
The bill has been filed for several years, but only got its first official hearing this year. It failed on a 5-5 vote. But, Guillermo Smith says he’s hopeful for 2017. Since the Pulse tragedy, he says the bill has received even more support from Republicans.
Meanwhile, Governor Rick Scott’s proposed budget is already reflecting the Pulse tragedy. It’s slated to include a five percent pay raise for the state’s 4,000 law enforcement officers from different agencies.
“If you’ve looked at what we’ve gone through with Pulse and the Hurricanes, this is the right thing to do,” said Scott.
Scott also says it’s a tough time for law enforcement as some seek to commit violent acts against the group. And, Jerry Demings agrees. The Orange County Sheriff is also the Florida Sheriffs Association President.
Demings says with the state continuing to grow, law enforcers needs to enhance their abilities to gather criminal intelligence information.
“Especially with the incidents here in Orlando this Summer, we are going to have to continue being vigilant regarding our counterterrorism efforts,” said Demings. “And, that will be a significant issue for Florida, going forward in this next year. There may be legislation introduced regarding our abilities to maintain records and create surveillance, etc. related to those issues that will have a nexus to federal law and state law.”
He adds post-Pulse, he’s glad Governor Scott also intends to increase the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s budget, especially when it comes to counterterrorism efforts.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.