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Friday, September 18, 2020
Home Commentary Op-Ed: Community Comes Together to Protest Gun Violence

Op-Ed: Community Comes Together to Protest Gun Violence

Local activist Jason Budsan dons an old Mother’s Against Guns T-shirt, honoring the organization formed by Celia Carroll that coordinated the Walk/Run Against Violence to raise community awareness. (Photo by Ananta Pancham)

Monday was a day of thanks. After participating in this weekend’s USVI Million Mother March on St. Thomas, I know there is so much I am thankful for, including some of the truly beautiful moments I experienced along the way as our small group of participants trekked from Tutu Park Mall to Emancipation Garden.

Really, the entire event – along with the march on St. Croix – was put together by volunteers. Over the past few months, as our streets and neighborhoods have been wrought by gun violence, the community has looked for something to do and found a mission in this. That was clear by the donations of equipment, shirts, money, water, ice, snacks, banners and signs that came in – even up to the morning of – and it was greatly appreciated, along with the presence of our V.I. Police Department and St. Thomas Rescue, who cleared the streets, enforced social distancing and stayed by our side straight to the end.

And here’s one beautiful moment: On St. Thomas, at the bottom of Raphune Hill, there was a group of women who set up tents and tables in front of Wheatley Center, offering cold drinks and fruit to all participants. As the march passed, they packed up, but then immediately headed down to Emancipation Garden, where they set up again, without asking for money or recognition.

Motorists on the waterfront honked while passing participants on the road. (Photo by Ananta Pancham)

I think a lot of people also wondered what a march would do. After it ends, the killing continues, and then what? Well, here’s another beautiful moment: While passing two neighborhoods on the way down St. Thomas, people came out of their homes. They stood on porches, popped out of windows, even stood still at the gas stations and heard the participants claim their streets back peacefully. Two mothers even pulled their kids out of bed to join in, and they, too, carried signs.

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Passing by Mandela Circle, a group of visitors to the island out on an early walk then stopped two of the marchers to ask about 14-year-old Aaron Ashby, who he was and what happened to him. They were saddened by the response, but they cared.

I think maybe I was a little startled when my seven-year-old, after seeing all this, turned to me and asked, “But what about all the other people who didn’t come out?” I didn’t have an answer right away, but I am thankful for her realization, and that she just skipped right over me and found an organizer to ask instead.

No, the marches weren’t going to be a magical shot in the arm. But it visibly shook the people that watched. And I saw as they took notice of the surviving mothers and families who walked by with the faces of loved ones on their T-shirts or signs, or registered that the chants – “these are our streets” or, “Black Lives Matter” – were completely directed at the people responsible for these murders, not the politicians or police or government.

Participants on St. Thomas ended the march in Emancipation Garden. (Photo by Ananta Pancham)

I think that was another beautiful moment: We were all asked to take responsibility and be the village we’re always saying we want to be. Maybe I’m naïve, but I heard people talk about real initiatives, supporting real organizations already doing work in our community and offering real hope to young men and women who may not have any. I heard a call for parents to get more involved at home, to monitor their children’s activities and to put an end to them when they take a wrong turn. I saw the mothers and family members of Aaron Ashby, Bria Evans, Junior “Akimo” Freeman and Elon Frett, among others, come out to honor their loved ones, all killed by guns.

That’s what I took from it. And, sincerely, I hope it doesn’t end there. I hope it was the first step that brought everyone together, and the force that keeps us coming out for good. Because we also need to show our support, back our leaders in making tough decisions and be a partner in change.

Thank you to Patasha Tracy, Brigitte Berry and Anjali James for organizing.

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