My first byline in a professional newspaper came with a Pulitzer Prize winner, someone who would become something of a mentor. Not too bad, eh?
By Michael Vitez and Christopher Wink | Jan. 22, 2006 | Philadelphia Inquirer
Leslie Willis Lowry organized yesterday’s panel to stop gun violence because her son was killed in 2000.
Imtisar Shah sat on the panel to stop gun violence because her son was killed in 2003.
Angela Riley sat in the audience yesterday and rose to speak out against gun violence because her son was just killed in August – three months after graduating from prep school.
“My son had a 95.5 GPA,” said Riley, a Southwest Philadelphia mother. “I came for my own therapy because my wound is really, really fresh.”
These three women, along with nearly 100 mothers, fathers, siblings, community leaders and public officials determined to combat what they call an epidemic in gun violence, came to the African American Museum in Center City yesterday to express their grief and outrage, but, more important, to seek solutions.
Lowry, director of education and community programs at the museum, organized yesterday’s panel in conjunction with an exhibit at the museum: “Bearing Witness: Murder’s Wake.” This is a collection of photographs of friends and family taken by her nephew after they learned of her son’s death.
About 80 people attended a similar forum – Take Action Against Gun Violence Town Meeting – at First United Methodist Church of Germantown, held at the same time yesterday afternoon.
The facts of gun violence are startling: 380 people were slain in Philadelphia last year – 80 percent by bullet wounds. Eighty percent of the victims were African Americans males, 40 percent age 22 or younger. Forty-five victims were 18 or younger.
Already this year, at least 19 people in the city have been killed.
Why is gun violence rising? “Too many guns,” said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, whose son was killed in 2001. He was gunned down in a dispute over a parking space. Johnson-Speight went on to found Mothers in Charge, one of many groups in attendance yesterday devoted to stopping gun violence.
At both forums, many solutions were offered – most notably support of legislation that would limit the sale of handguns in Pennsylvania to one a month a person.
“Why would anyone have to buy more than one gun a month, unless you’re planning to start a revolution,” said Inspector Steve Johnson, a Philadelphia police officer attending the session at the museum. “I don’t see any need for people to walk around armed. It creates a dire situation.”
He said people go through a period of outrage after killings but become complacent again. “We have to maintain that outrage,” he said, for change to occur.
“We must show the violent, hopeless youth in our streets we really do care about them,” said Qamar Rasheed of Camden, whose brother was killed. She said youths are so violent because society has given up on them and they’ve given up on themselves.
“They don’t feel there’s any value to who they are,” she said. “We must show them we will protect them at all costs.”
State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) called the epidemic of gun violence a public health problem. He said he would like to see a national policy to combat the problem.
Karen Warrington, communications officer for U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.), said young people had nothing to do. “The schools spit them out on the street,” she said, adding that people “can’t allow a school system to continue to fail 70 percent of the children. At some point, a child will give up.”
Until the public demands accountability, Warrington said, “we will keep coming together at funerals.”
Speaking at First United Methodist Church, Malik Aziz stressed a point made repeatedly at both forums:
“This is something in our community that is erasing our young people,” said Aziz, the co-founder and co-chair of Men for a United Philadelphia, an antiviolence group. “We have to work together to end that.
“Violence affects everyone, from grandmas who are scared to go outside to the youth getting killed.”
Text as it appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 22, 2006.