CHICAGO – They gathered to share their overwhelming grief. But they also came together to share their anger and determination that something be done to stem the growing gun violence across the country that is claiming thousands of lives.
Hundreds of candlelight vigils were held nationwide over the weekend mourning the victims of the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., along with hope for a national conversation and vows for action.
“My daughter Emily was in French class at Virginia Tech when a gunman opened fire, killing her teacher and 11 of her friends and classmates. Emily was shot twice in the back of the head, but survived. We can’t let this continue.
“Now is the time for neighbors to comfort one another, keep the victims of the Connecticut tragedy in our hearts, and call for a plan to end gun violence.”
A typical vigil was like the one that attracted nearly 30 people in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago on Dec. 15, called on a day’s notice.
Participants from Melrose Park, Evanston, other suburbs and neighborhoods across the northern part of the city huddled together under a steady rain. They expressed deep frustration that elected officials were fearful of confronting the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers, responsible for flooding communities with weapons, including assault weapons and weakening and eliminating many gun restrictions.
They also decried the destruction of mental health facilities and services through defunding at every level and the current attacks on Medicare and Medicaid.
“I am so frustrated that this continues and no one is opposing the NRA,” said one participant. “We need to raise our voices.”
“What happened in Newtown happens daily in Chicago, but at a slower pace so it’s not called a massacre. But it’s the same,” said Jill.
One participant, a teacher and parent of a child in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) remembered the teachers who died in the Newtown massacre and also spoke about the daily loss of life from gun violence in Chicago neighborhoods.
Over 440 people have died from gun violence in Chicago so far this year.
“The loss of life is unspeakable, and the rest of the kids are being daily traumatized when they see their family members and friends killed. As the need for services rises, CPS has drastically cut back on the number of school social workers. In some cases there is 1 for every 600 students,” she said.
“Can we see those children and their parents? Can’t we reach out and comfort one another no matter what you believe,” said another participant. “Let goodness and kindness come into this world and let each of us play our role. I’m sick and tired of the violence. I’m angry with the NRA. “
She then led the group in a moment of silence.
“I am terminally ill,” began another participant. “But I’m determined to do what I can in the remaining time I have left to do something about this. It’s not right.”
The vigil then proceeded four blocks west to Roosevelt High School where a shooting nearby claimed the life of 22 year-old Keith Shaw on Nov. 20, symbolizing the connection between the Newtown massacre and the killings taking place daily across the nation, a point also made by President Barack Obama.
There has been a marked increased in shootings and deaths in the neighborhood over the recent months, which has residents greatly concerned.
“I have two kids and everyday I am nervous for their safety,” said Irma, who brought her daughter Annette.
Washington DC teachers organized a candlelight vigil Dec. 15 at Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. Participants urged President Obama make good on his pledge to act forcefully to end the spiraling violence.
At a vigil at a Van Cortlandt Park playground in the Bronx several people spoke eloquently about the teachers who died, saying teachers should be praised, supported, and heralded, not bashed as they regularly are.
Another vigil took place at the Iowa state capitol building in Des Moines. Ryan, 40, said that she believes mass shootings will keep happening until the nation has an honest discussion about what causes them.
“The only way to stop it is to be proactive and actually start having the conversations that already needed to be had: about gun control, about mental illness and about health care and providing services for people that need them,” she said.