After Chauvin verdict, Philly mothers who lost children to violence want change here

Danielle Shaw (center) embraces a fellow member of Moms Bonded By Grief at a holiday party in South Philadelphia on Dec. 8, 2019. (Becca Haydu for WHYY)

Danielle Shaw (center) embraces a fellow member of Moms Bonded By Grief at a holiday party in South Philadelphia on Dec. 8, 2019. (Becca Haydu for WHYY)

Aleida Garcia said she had a familiar “pins and needles” feeling Tuesday afternoon while awaiting the verdict in the murder trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. It was similar to what she experienced while sitting in a courtroom waiting for the verdict of the man who killed her son in Philadelphia.

“When I heard the [Chauvin] verdict, I felt the same way, the sense that, you know, there is when you get justice for someone you love or someone we care about, it is a sort of a victory,” said Garcia. “But in a lot of ways, it’s a hollow victory because at some point, you know, you realize that the person isn’t going to come back.”

While Chauvin was found guilty on three counts for the murder of George Floyd, her son was killed by a civilian with a gun.

Garcia, the founder of the National Homicide Justice Alliance, joined other Philadelphia mothers who had lost children to gun violence in the city for a virtual press conference on Wednesday. It was billed as a way to honor Floyd and take a moment to share a collective sigh of relief that Chauvin was held accountable for pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost 10 minutes.

The event also called attention to escalating violence in Philadelphia, an issue that has prompted residents to call for the city to take action through protests, rallies, and even multiple hunger strikes.

Still, the women on the Zoom gathering lamented that violence in Philadelphia hadn’t drawn the same outrage and attention seen when video of Floyd’s final moments went viral and prompted protests here and across the world calling attention to police brutality.

“Why aren’t you marching around the country, around the city, around the world when the Blacks are killing each other at this rate?” said Dorothy Johnson Speight, founder of Mothers in Charge.

Though Philadelphia isn’t the only city that saw a rise in gun violence, it did record 499 homicides in 2020, a 30-year high. This year, the city has already experienced the loss of 154 people to homicide, a 32% increase from the same time last year.

Shootings are also on the rise this year, with more than 580 to date, a 38% increase from the same time last year.

Garcia said if the shootings continue at this pace, the city could see close to 700 lives lost this year — deaths that could be prevented by addressing the systemic racism at the root causes of gun violence, such as poverty, a history of redlined neighborhoods, and underfunded schools.

The gun violence epidemic was the leading cause of death among young Black and Latino men in 2020, according to the city.

Chantay Love, founder of the EMIR Healing Center, acknowledged that the task of saving these young men is a Herculean one that requires nothing short of “changing the world.”

But making that change can start small, with acts like reading a book to someone or holding their hand through the job hiring process, she said.

“Everybody takes a part,” Love said.

The Black community in particular is dealing with trauma and constant messaging that questions their worth, said Love, pointing to EMIR’s work in addressing these issues.

“We are open to young people that are learning how to deal with their pain and empower themselves through art, whether through their mind, body, and movement,” she said. “It is essential that the trauma that is inside comes out.”

The women leading the Zoom event said it was of utmost importance to give young people and the neighborhoods they live in the chance to thrive. The women offered their organizations as ways people could get involved if they didn’t know where to start.

“We need you to do that,” said Love. “It is too detrimental to our communities that you do not get involved.”

Find a list of resources for people affected by gun violence here.

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