Philly families mourn their lost, make 9-mile March to End Homicide

Alan Williams, whose aunt was murdered, cries as balloons honoring murder victims are released. (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

Alan Williams, whose aunt was murdered, cries as balloons honoring murder victims are released. (Jonathan Wilson for WHYY)

Undaunted by rain, The Walk to End Homicide covered nine miles Saturday to raise awareness of the city’s rising murder rate and help families affected by violence heal.

Joining the small procession down Broad Street was Dawn Ferguson and her two daughters, Bahiyyah and Fajr, ages 11 and seven. They were marching to remember the girls’ father, Brandon Phillips, who died in September.

“It’s hard. It’s only been four months and it’s like new,” said Ferguson, who lives in the city’s Olney neighborhood.

When the gunman opened fire near 8th and Spring Garden streets, Phillips’ death was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the police began their investigation, Ferguson said “he laid out there for 45 minutes before he was actually discovered.”

Ferguson feels especially anxious about gun violence now, she said, and sees the ripple effects in her community.

“Because the streets are unsafe, you feel like your family is unsafe,” she said. “You’re scared to walk the streets, you can’t sit on your steps, you’re scared to send your children to the store, so it affects everybody.”

Phillips was one of 317 people murdered last year in Philadelphia, the highest number of killings since 2012. Most homicides go unsolved by police, who cite illegal drug trafficking as the reason behind the majority of such deaths.

Near Broad and Tioga streets, Taron Mitchell remembered his friend Mike Williams.

“Eight years ago, he got shot because someone stepped on his foot,” said Mitchell, 26, remembering his friend’s last moments. “He said something, the person said something back and now he’s not here. I wake up to a lot of phone calls, maybe five or six times a year, someone saying one of my friends is shot. It’s crazy.”

“We really need something out here for people to do,” added Mitchell, who blames the violence in his North Philly neighborhood on a lack of job opportunities and the stress of poverty. “Because really [gun violence] is starting all the way with kids that are 12 because they don’t have the parents or role models to look up to.”

The march was put on by the activist group Erase the Rate, a group recently founded by Davida Garner, whose cousin Draymond Garner was murdered in June. It stretched from Olney to the morgue on University Avenue in West Philly. At the morgue, the roughly ten marchers met with a group from the anti-violence organization Mothers in Charge, where families memorialized those they lost in a moment of silence.

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