By Lee Peck
MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — As part of National Victims’ Rights Week – loved ones left behind because of violent crime — are standing together. The Mobile County District Attorney’s Office hosted its annual Victims’ Vigil.
Many of these families are still grieving and in some cases still seeking justice. The vigil was all about them, their loved ones, and combatting violent crime.
13-year-old Makenzie Hall was just 8 years old when her father Harry Williams Matthews III was killed.
“This is my fourth year to come to this event. I feel like it helps to show people my story… Like to encourage them it’s going to be okay… Just to keep pushing,” said Hall.
Mobile County District Attorney welcomed the families to Cooper Riverside Park — saying she recognized old and new faces at this year’s vigil.
“We are making sure we are doing everything we can to provide justice in these cases,” said D.A. Rich. “I can’t prosecute all of these cases but I will tell you that the members of the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office — every single one of them — is here for you.”
While the families may be strangers — they share their grief and trauma of losing a loved one. Many were victims of gun violence.
“Some of these kids I know — from the pictures on here. Jasmine Pettway, I do know. This loss to gun violence it hurts — it’s a struggle — every day with everyone going on with their life. We are still stuck with a void,” said Courtney Smith Robinson, honoring her brother Rick Smith.
18-year-old Gaige Taylor was killed five years ago. This is his family’s first time attending the vigil.
“Gaige was loved by so many people. So we have had a lot of support. A lot of people loved him,” said Tiffany Head, Gaige’s Mother. “And I just want to make the point that violence does not stop violence. And it doesn’t help the situation it just exacerbates it.”
With the Port City nearly setting a homicide record last year — Mobile Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste says they can’t combat the deadly violence alone.
“Simply not reporting it — basically tells these individuals that are out there terrorizing particular neighborhoods and communities that it’s okay — because nobody is going to say anything. So — I think instead of saying I’m afraid to report it… I think you should be afraid not to report,” said Battiste.
One by one one family members read their loved one’s names aloud. A butterfly release also signifying they’ll never forget the lives tragically cut short.
Tiffany Head, Gaige Taylor’s Mother, wanted to share the following message with the other families:
I want to start by offering my condolences to everyone here and to those who could not be with us but have suffered due to acts of violence in our community. I am truly sorry. I may not know the exact circumstances of each individual family that is here today, but I do understand your struggle, pain, and loss. I know what it feels like to have your whole world turned upside down. I know the heartache, the depression, and even the anger that floods into your life like a mighty river and devours everything within its path. In 2017 I lost my son, due to senseless violence. Gaige had just turned 18, he had his whole life ahead of him, and he did not deserve to die. No one deserves such a fate and my heart morns daily for him and the potential life that he had stolen away from him at such a young age.
In this moment we are gathered to remember our loved ones but today is not just about remembrance. It is also about providing a voice that cries out for Justice, a voice for those who can no longer speak for themselves. We all share a common thread, and a burden has been placed upon me for all who have suffered at the hands of violence. I wanted to gather statistics which demonstrated the severity of the circumstances that Mobile has found itself in. Yet in preparing this speech today I did not have time, but I do not need statistics to relay to you the crisis that our city finds itself in. As you all have unfortunately experienced firsthand the injustice of hate and violence in your life. And to those who have not, open your eyes and ears, our sons and daughters are falling prey to murders every day. It is no longer safe to walk the streets, go to sporting events, or even sit within the comfort of your own car at a red light. Our crime rate is steadily rising, our justice and prison systems are broken and until they are fixed, and violent perpetrators are taken off the streets and held responsible for their actions in a degree that reflect the severity of the crimes in which they commit, crime will continue to rise.
I am not here to point fingers instead I am here to plea with our citizens to rise in action. No one should ever have to suffer such disparities as we have suffered and I pray that the violence within our city will stop but unless our citizens step out of their complacency, change will not happen. A democracy that is built for the people, of the people, will not stand unless held to accountability by the people. As citizen the responsibility falls on us to become involved. It is imperative that that we take an active part in our government by educating ourselves on the political stance of our candidates and then participating in elections by voting. As constituents we must demand for our elected officials to represent our interest and needs. We must demand that funds be made available to build new prison systems and work together to create legislation that reforms a broken system. No violent offender of the law should be released before serving at minimum 80% of his or her sentence. Our District Attorneys purpose is not to hand out sweetheart deals that return hardened institutionalized murders to the street to commit more crimes or even to obtain guilty verdicts that are aesthetically pleasing on paper. Our district Attorney’s job is to obtain Justice, to uphold the law, to make sure that the guilty are held responsible and that the innocent are not convicted of crimes they did not commit. Our DA must be willing to put in the work to obtain such Justice and we must hold them accountable.
Before I leave you, I have one last plea to our citizens and victims. I plea that you do not take the law into your own hands in the search for justice, through further acts of violence. Violence does not negate violence it only exacerbates the situation at hand. My son Gaige had to learn this lesson at the expense of his life. I know and feel your frustration but there is a better way to obtain Justice. I do not wish the lose of a child on any mother. We must join together. Together our voices cannot be muffled, we must seek to build a safe and just community for all our sons and daughters. I desire not to cause further chaos and destruction but to exemplify to the world the impact of love that Gaige provided in my life and in doing so we will leave a legacy in the names of our loved ones that will build a better tomorrow.
Now let us please have a moment of silence for the memory of our loved one’s followed be a prayer.
God, I humble myself before you and come to You today with praise in my heart for You and only You are worthy. We gather to remember our loved ones who have fallen, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our nieces and nephews, our cousins, and our dear friends. Our lives have forever been changed because of senseless acts of violence and hate; our hearts mourn. Knowing that You are the great comforter Lord, I pray You will comfort those who are full of sorrow, that You will provide rest to the restless, and healing to the broken. I ask that You protect us from those who harbor evil intents and lie in wait within our city to lay claim to the next victim, I pray that what has been done in darkness will be brought into the light, Lord we seek for justice to prevail not only for our loved ones but for all citizens.
I ask You to build up leaders within the community who will stand together and fight for the safety of our community. I pray for You to bestow our elected officials with wisdom, strength, and guidance so that justice will be obtained in accordance with Your will. May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus name God bless us all Amen.
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