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“I Died That Day in Parkland”: Shotline Uses AI-Generated Voices of Gun Victims to Call Congress

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The shooting in Kansas City on Wednesday came on the sixth anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school massacre that left 17 dead and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. To mark the anniversary, gun control advocates have launched a project called “The Shotline,” which calls lawmakers with AI-generated audio messages that feature the voices of gun violence victims, pushing them to pass stricter gun control laws and prevent future tragedies. One of the victims featured is Parkland student Joaquin Oliver, who was just 17 years old when he was killed. We speak to Joaquin’s father, Manuel Oliver, a gun reform activist who worked on the “Shotline” project. He describes the project as the “result of more than six years being ignored” while “begging these politicians to pass laws,” and reacts to the news of the Super Bowl parade shooting in Kansas City.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman.

The mass shooting in Kansas City came on the sixth anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school massacre, when a 19-year-old gunman shot dead 17 people, injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. To mark the anniversary, gun control advocates traveled to Washington to play for lawmakers a series of AI-generated audio messages featuring the voices of students killed in Parkland and other gun violence victims. This is an AI-generated message from Joaquin Oliver, who was shot dead in Parkland at the age of 17.

AI-GENERATED VOICE OF JOAQUIN OLIVER: Hello. I am Joaquin Oliver. Six years ago, I was a senior at Parkland. Many students and teachers were murdered on Valentine’s Day that year by a person using an AR-15. But you don’t care. You never did. It’s been six years, and you’ve done nothing — not a thing — to stop all the shootings that have continued to happen since. The thing is, I died that day in Parkland. My body was destroyed by a weapon of war. I’m back today because my parents used AI to recreate my voice to call you. Other victims like me will be calling, too, again and again, to demand action. How many calls will it take for you to care? How many dead voices will you hear before you finally listen? Every day your inaction creates more voices. If you fail to act now, we’ll find someone who will.

AMY GOODMAN: The AI-generated audio appears on a new website called “The Shotline,” which aims to flood the congressional hotline with the AI-resurrected voices of murdered kids. On Wednesday, Joaquin Oliver’s parents, Manny and Patricia, were set to appear on CNN to talk about their new project, when news broke about the shooting in Kansas City.

BRIANNA KEILAR: We had an entirely different interview that we were going to do here, just to talk about some of the work that you guys are doing on Capitol Hill trying to bring about awareness and change. And you see this happening as you were here visiting Washington. What is on your mind as you’re watching this?

MANUEL OLIVER: I’m not surprised at all. It’s like, literally, “We interrupt this interview because we have another mass shooting going on.” Then you might be interrupting that one because it was going to be another one. So it never stops.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin, one of 17 people killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Manny is the co-founder of the gun reform group Change the Ref. His new project is “The Shotline.” He’s joining us today from Lansing, Michigan, where he’s set to perform his one-person show called Guac.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Manny, once again, as we do so many times, offering you our condolences not only on the death of your son six years ago, Guac, but on the gun violence deaths of so many in this country. So, they interrupted your Shotline presentation on CNN to bring you yet another mass shooting that you had to respond to. Can you take it from there? And talk about the project you were in D.C. to present.

MANUEL OLIVER: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me here.

Absolutely, that’s exactly what happened. We’ve reached a point where we’re going to fight about dates. Like, I thought February 14th will be the day that we honor the victims from Parkland, but I can tell you now that next year a lot of people will be honoring what happened in Kansas City. And that’s the best way for America to forget about a shooting, a mass shooting. Having a new one will make everybody ignore the other one. That’s sad, but it’s true. And shame on us on that.

We were in D.C. launching The Shotline. And The Shotline is basically the result of more than six years being ignored. My voice has been out there, Patricia’s voice and thousands and millions of voices have been, knocking doors and trying to convince, begging these politicians to pass laws and to prioritize life over guns. And that did not work, or hasn’t worked enough. So we’re bringing the voices of the ones that we lost, of our loved ones. And with the technology that we have today, we can do that. So now we have an army of dead people, people that was killed and murdered by the blessing of our system on the gun manufacturers, asking for change. So far, believe it or not, we have close to 40,000 calls made, and we just started a couple of days ago. So, when you tell me, “Call your representative. If you want to see change, call your representative,” that is exactly what we’re doing. But I don’t want to call him. I want Joaquin to call my representative, and see if that way we can find some change.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you called it “Shotline” because?

MANUEL OLIVER: Well, for obvious reasons. Because people has been shot. In Joaquin’s case, he got shot four times with an AR-15 inside his school. But you see other things. Like, if you find this uncomfortable, which is something that we heard already, well, I think that you don’t know what uncomfortable means. I can tell you about feeling uncomfortable. When they let you know that your son, your loved one, was shot and you won’t be able to see him anymore, you won’t be able to watch the Super Bowl with him, for example, anymore, forever, that’s being uncomfortable. So, this is something that involves all of us. I think we should all support this. And amazingly — and this was kind of predictable — we have already more than 40 submissions from families that want their loved one’s voice to be part of this.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Manny, you’re in Lansing to perform a one-person show called Guac. As we wrap up, tell us about this, and from Lansing to New York.

MANUEL OLIVER: This is an amazing project, part of a very bad situation and terrible, painful, traveling around the country. But we’re here. We have the one-man show. And it’s a story about Joaquin. You have to remember that Joaquin was here for 17 wonderful years. So I don’t want people to remember — that would be unfair — to remember Joaquin as the kid that died on February 14. This is not honoring Joaquin at all. So, this is a roller coaster of emotions. People laugh. People cry. And people engage with what we’re doing. Today we’re part of an event. It’s the Latinx Film Festival here. And the show will be on Saturday, the 17th. And I’m so happy. It’s probably my favorite project, because I can talk about my son, no interruptions, theater treatment, you know? Turn your phones off and just listen how beautiful and amazing my son still is.

AMY GOODMAN: Manuel Oliver, we want to thank you so much for being with us, co-founder of the gun reform group Change the Ref and the new project, The Shotline. He’s father of Joaquin, Guac, one of 17 people killed six years ago, in 2018, in Parkland, Florida.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to London.

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