Mourning mother at Cliveden Park anti-violence rally: ‘It’s like we’re living in war zones’

As a way to take a stand, rally for support and simply remember the numerous victims of gun violence in Germantown and beyond, several community and religious organizations gathered in Cliveden Park for a “call to action and public witness” event on Sunday.

People gathered in a corner of the park at Chew Ave. and E.  Cliveden St. in Mt. Airy.

There, they shared their personal connections to the violence at an event sponsored by Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence, Heeding God’s Call, First United Methodist Church of Germantown, Christ Church and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

Personal impact

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Movita Johnson-Harrell and Yancy Harrell, both members of Heeding God’s Call, wore remembrance shirts of their youngest son, Charles Johnson, who was killed in Jan. 2011.

The Harrells noted that it was a case of mistaken identity.

“In response to his murder, our family chosen a way to deal with this by trying to help other children get off the street and try to become apart of the solution,” Johnson-Harrell said.

“It makes me sad that we’re out here for yet another senseless murder,” she continued. “And, it’s just plaguing our community. It’s like we’re living in war zones in the city of Philadelphia.”

Community anger

Tanya Barnes of Germantown said that she is mad about the state of affairs in her neighborhood.

“I’m upset that my daughter can’t walk to school. We had a cop killed around the corner from us. We had a boy killed around the corner from us. It’s crazy,” she said.

“The kids need something to do. They need somebody to talk to or they need stern family or support,” she continued. “It starts at home.”

Barnes said she has attended similar meetings at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. Despite the efforts of churches and organizations, the community is not doing enough, in her estimation.

“Nobody is listening,” Barnes said. “Everybody got something to say, and everybody needs to come out and voice their opinion.”

For her part, Anna Hoover of Germantown said she came to the event because the gun violence has a tangible effect where she lives.

“Because I live in this community, I don’t want to see our young people getting killed,” she said. “There was a shooting near my home maybe one or two years ago and I walked by when the body was still there. And that’s pretty disgusting. While it’s not my immediate family or friend, it makes it feel very immediate.”

‘A continuous struggle’

Krisheena Malik, who described herself as a third-generation activist in her family, came to the rally with her father and two of her four children.

“It’s a continuous struggle,” Malik said. “It’s just a continuous struggle to save our people and save our community. For [my children], to teach them a sense of community before anything — that’s what’s missing from all of this. There’s no sense of community.”

Remembering a recent victim

At the park, an offering was collected for the children of 23-year-old Nafis Armstead who was killed July 27.

After clergy members read the 23d Psalm and said a Jewish prayer, the crowd marched to the 200 block of E. Sharpnack St. to the site of Armstead’s death.

Police officers escorted the crowd, which included members of Northeast, South, and Southwest Philadelphia churches, as well. Demonstrators gathered around a memorial for Armstead filled with candles, teddy bears, beer bottles and messages to the victim.

Rev. Dolores McCabe, a retired pastor at Millcreek Baptist Church, lead a non-denominational prayer which Yancy Harrell followed with a Muslim prayer spoken in Arabic.

Relatives appreciative

Beverly Brown and Chris Baxter, relatives of Armstead, said they appreciated the support given to them by the crowd.

“When is it going to stop?” Brown asked. “I miss him everyday.”

Baxter concurred.

“I’ve had family members that have died before, but none of them have been this hurtful,” Baxter said. “With a person that I’ve been around almost everyday, I talked to almost everyday, to this day, I still go through my phone looking at pictures. I even call him sometimes.”

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