On the eve of Gun Violence Awareness Month, friends and family of Sandrea Williams, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed in her West Philadelphia neighborhood, remembered her with a somber memorial and a plea for information leading to the arrest of her killer. Her funeral service is today.
“We want justice,” said Darin Toliver, of the Mayor’s Commission for African-American Males, who organized the event. “We want to put the Philadelphia police, we want to put the community at-large on notice to let them know we will find the killer or killers of a bright future that has been taken away from us too soon.”
Sakinah Crew, 43, one of Sandrea’s neighbors, said the issue of gun violence makes her feel hopeless and scared. She’s sick of it and worries about its effect on children such as her seven-year-old.
“It’s a shame that you pay so much money trying to live peaceful and no matter where you go in Philadelphia at this point it’s not safe,” said Crew, while standing near the spot Sandrea lay wounded before being taken to the hospital. Crew said she was the first to see her after the initial chaos of the gunfire.
“Her whole life is just gone,” she said. She could’ve been anything. She could’ve been the first black woman president and we don’t know now.”
The February 14 shooting that killed 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida set off another iteration of a very long debate about gun control, but this time it was centered around youth. In March students around the country walked marched during for both National Walkout Day and March For Our Lives, mostly calling for more political action around gun control and safer schools.
In Philadelphia hundreds of students took to the streets not only calling for more safety in schools, but also in their neighborhoods, since many have been affected by gun violence at home. But things remain the same in Philadelphia. So far this year, it is estimated that there are 493 shooting victims, 85 of which were fatal.
“All the protesting against gun violence isn’t going to change anything until you start listening to black people,” said Gifty Droh, 18 at the vigil.
Aaliyah Griffin, 19, said between criminals in the neighborhood and the police “nothing is ever going to change” and relying on law enforcement isn’t going to make a difference.
“This has been going on for years and not once has anyone tried to put a stop to this,” she said. “The cops are killing us themselves and I feel like the cops feel like they can do that to us because look how we treat each other. Why should they care?”
Toliver said there needs to be an “honest and frank dialogue with young men” asking what it will take to make neighborhoods safer, where “to have our mothers go to the store freely to be able to live without having to worry about ducking from bullets. That’s where the conversation needs to be. And be accountable to ourselves more than the police.”