Victoria Greene, the founder of the Every Murder Is Real support group, took some time this week to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the murder of her son Emir, who was 20 when he was shot and killed in Germantown on March 26, 1997.
Greene and her eldest daughter, Chantay Love, typically take the day off to honor the memory of the man for whom their organization gets its acronym, EMIR.
Upon arriving at their victim-assistance center on the 5200 block of Germantown Ave. for an interview, Love, who serves as EMIR’s program director, received a call from a client about a navigating the legal system.
Healing a community with a high rate of homicide is a never-ending battle and a reminder that others are suffering, too.
Working through grief and rage
Looking back, Greene said she felt suicidal, and later homicidal toward the person who was caught shortly after he shot her son to death on the 5200 block of Rubicam St.
She credited the now-defunct Grief Assistance Program through the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office with saving her life and has modeled her non-profit organization’s programs on her experience.
“Every week that I attended the group, I saw more and more parents come in who had lost their children to homicide,” Greene said. “That’s when I realized that in this city of Philadelphia, almost every day someone is murdered.”
Greene said sharing stories with the group made her realize “the importance of co-victims having support to get them through one of the worst things that could happen to someone.”
Creating a non-profit
She first held a major conference on drug-related homicide in 1999 at Rosemont College, inviting people who assisted her family, including the assistant district attorney and the judge who worked on her son’s case.
The panel also included homicide detectives, crime-scene specialists and grief counselors who answered questions about homicide’s aftermath. Greene held another conference at Temple University in 2001.
A retired drug-and-alcohol counselor for the Philadelphia County prison system, Greene created her non-profit counseling center in 2008 to educate and assist others in understanding and healing the trauma associated with losing a loved one or community member.
The assistance center provides free services such as conflict resolution and grief support groups for all ages. Greene’s experience has driven the education about the criminal justice system, navigation through the legal system and assistance with victim-compensation forms.
To help others coping with grief, Greene said it is important not to judge victims.
“Every Murder Is Real is the name of the organization,” Greene said. “We do not get into what your loved one was, what was his lifestyle when he was murdered or any of that. The fact is, we believe that all life is valuable.”
After her son’s murder, Greene learned he was dealing drugs. Love said her brother should be remembered for more than that.
She remembers him as an artist who loved to draw and to help people, like boys without fathers who he would bring to the barbershop. In fact, senior citizens told her mother that Emir visited them in their nursing home.
Love said that although she feels guilty about not doing more to prevent her brother from becoming susceptible to the peer pressure of the streets, she “was not the one who pulled the trigger.”
Greene said a common misconception about murder is that once the perpetrator is brought to trial and found guilty, the issue is over.
“You caught the perpetrator, now they’re in prison, most of the time for the rest of their lives. It’s over,” Greene said. “But it’s not over for the family, it’s not over for the friends and it’s not over for the community. These people are traumatized. They’re grieving and, for the most part, they don’t get the assistance that they need to heal. … The person has been murdered. You can’t bring them back.”
“Untreated trauma perpetuates violence”
Greene said one of the most difficult aspects of counseling is “there still is a stigma around counseling, that counseling is for crazy people.”
Her organization proposes healthy ways to address the symptoms of grief — the depression, the sleeplessness — by providing an alternative to the substance abuse she witnessed while working in the prison system.
Greene said she is fortunate to have the ability to separate her feelings about what happened with her son when she is working with another victim’s family.
“Otherwise, I couldn’t be effective. I’m just able to do that,” she said. “It is painful work. I am sitting with people and their pain and witnessing their pain, being there with them while they’re in pain, but I call it a privilege to be able to do that because it’s healing.”
Andrew Small is a student at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.