Nearly 200 people participated in a Good Friday walk through Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood yesterday to protest the 238 gun murders in Philadelphia last year. The walk was sponsored by the anti-gun violence organization, Heeding God’s Call, and area faith organizations to highlight how gun violence affects Germantown and to call for gun-sale reforms.
The walk began at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) where participants of many races, ages and faiths gathered, warmly greeting one another. In front of them, the church lawn was clustered with 238 crosses memorializing the victims of gun violence in 2015. Every cross was covered in a tee-shirt, which bore the name, age and date of death of each victim.
Before the walk began, Shaine Clairborne, a community leader, spoke of the murder of a 19-year-old boy, which had occurred on his doorstep almost a year ago. He described the heartache of watching this boy die. After a pause, he said, “It might be Friday, but Sunday’s comin’.”
Clairborne described America as “a culture that is held hostage to fear,” but he added, “Love casts out fear.”
The Rev. Megan LeCluyse then read a litany of commitment for the walk. “We are the mothers and fathers who have children who will never grow old because they have been shot dead in our city streets… We are cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors…we are all related to the victims of violence.”
Children who will never grow old
As the walk began, people were encouraged to pick up the crosses on the lawn and carry them for the 1.5-mile walk. As people lifted the crosses, the procession up Germantown Avenue began. Some people talked quietly among themselves. One woman played a steady beat on a drum as everyone marched along.
The first stop was a rundown car repair lot on the corner of Germantown Avenue and Walnut Street, which was the site of the 2015 killing of an unnamed man. The stop concluded as the crowd joined in singing Senzeni Na, a South African anti-apartheid song, which is often sung at funerals and demonstrations.
The second stop was a driveway between two sets of row homes. One of them had been home to a 29-year-old man who was shot in the face as he opened his door one night last year. Police believe the shooter was motivated by a previous dispute.
The Rev. Katie Day of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in the Mt. Airy neighborhood led the group in a prayer here, saying, “Look at the names on your shirt. These are lives that matter.”
Naming those murdered
She asked that every person carrying a shirt say the name of its victim so that they may not be forgotten. All at once, people shouted the names on the crosses they carried, creating a cacophony of names that once belonged to living people.
Movita Johnson Harrell described how her 18-year-old son was shot while he was in his car, waiting for his sister. She said some young boys mistook Harrell’s son for someone they were feuding with and shot him four times using illegally bought and resold guns.
Do you know how much your mommy loves you?
Harrell told the crowd what she had said to her son as he was dying in the hospital, “Charles Johnson, do you know how much your mommy loves you?” Her voice broke with tears as she said, “No mother should have to live with this.” She shouted, “It is enough!” Marchers, moved by her grief, chanted, “Not one more! Not one more!”
Harrell added that “people on the other side of the gun are victims too. They are products of a broken system.”
One of the goals of the walk and the organization Heeding God’s Call is to end straw purchasing, the highly profitable practice of buying guns and then illegally reselling them to underage and unqualified people in Philadelphia. Many of the bullets fired last year were shot by illegally bought and owned guns.
In an interview, marcher Marnetta Cox, a member of Providence Baptist Church in Germantown, described the murder of her step-son, John Cox. She said he was killed by his cousin out of jealousy. Despite the murder being caught on camera and having witnesses, Cox’s murderer has not been arrested.
Marnetta Cox said that it had been almost a year since his death, and she has recently come to terms with it. “I know he’s gone now. I don’t have to look anymore. I’ve put closure.”
John Cox was 24 years old. “He was a good boy,” said his step mother.
How can we let this happen?
The third stop was Theodore Roosevelt Junior High School. The participants gathered on the steps of the middle school and listened as Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Tikkun Olam Chavura spoke. “Everyone who attends this school has a good name. God forbid their names end up on a shirt like the ones we carry. How can we let this happen?” Holtzman demanded. She then chanted a prayer in Hebrew called “God Full of Mercy.”
At the final stop, The Rev. Bob Coombe of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown led an open prayer. People shouted out their prayers. One man yelled, “For those who feel they have to buy guns!” Another said, “For those who fear being shot!” A final voice called for “a Philadelphia that works for everyone.”