Mother’s Day March for Peace in Boston Demands Dignity and Compassion for Murder Victims’ Families

Interview with Massachusetts state Rep. Marjorie Decker and Arminda Baptiste, murder victim's mother, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Mother’s Day 2019 marked the 23rd consecutive Louis D. Brown Walk for Peace in Boston. Louis was a high-achieving student with lofty goals who worked to end violence in his community. At age 15, he was killed, caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout while on his way to a Teens Against Gang Violence meeting. His mother, Tina Chery, founded the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute to promote the goals her son had begun working toward.
On a cold, rainy day, May 12, hundreds of people of all ages, genders and backgrounds walked through the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods to a rally at Boston City Hall. They walked in unity for peace and healing, while demanding dignity and compassion for all families affected by murder.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus participated in the walk and spoke with this year’s honorary co-chair, Massachusetts state Rep. Marjorie Decker, as well as several family members of loved ones who were lost to violence. Here, Decker explains the origins of the institute, formed out of grief, that became a place for families to grieve and to receive direct services.

MARJORIE DECKER: They do really important community-based work that provides essential services that are very specific to dealing with the loss of loved ones, particularly children. But they also play a really important role through their programming in fostering peace – trading out violence for social and economic justice. And I’m here because it’s really important that we not lean on our non-profits or the grief of those who are survivors of homicide to do all the work that’s important to the rest of us. Loss and grief is not something that stays with just a family; it impacts entire neighborhoods, communities, schools. So many of our schools are carrying the collective trauma of homicide and violence and it is our responsibility collectively and as individuals, every single one of us, and as local and state governments, to step in and support the work and take their lead.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, as a state rep, is there anything directly you’ve done or could do to promote that?

MARJORIE DECKER: Yeah. So I led the bill that was signed into law last year, the Red Flag bill, extreme risk protection. It means if you know someone in your family, your home, has a gun and they are going to hurt themselves or hurt someone else, you can now go to the courts and have them removed from their guns. That was passed. In that work I also became acutely aware of the incredible support and resources people have who are working to change gun laws, but it was also really gut-wrenching to see that that same level of support – both financially, emotionally and visibly – was not there for survivors of homicide.

The legislature this year additionally passed targeted resources to work with young people in communities that are particularly impacted by homicide and violence. We need to have survivors on the forefront, not only while we lobby for better gun laws, but we all need to be lobbying for more support for resources, because as I said, gun violence and homicides – the survivors are carrying that grief and that post-traumatic stress around. It’s not isolated, right? It seeps into all parts of our communities, and all of us have a responsibility to understand the impact of trauma, and how we are providing support to the immediate survivors, but recognize that that trauma impacts our schools and our communities, and it really is our responsibility to make sure we are leaning in and that our resources and our laws are actually supporting them.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What’s the significance of having this on Mother’s Day?

MARJORIE DECKER: Yeah, I mean, can you think of anything more painful? I can’t, as a mom of two, than to know that on Mother’s Day, your child has been ripped away from you and is no longer here because they’ve been murdered. I think Tina did this because of wanting to be with other grieving moms, but really wanting to provide a space for families who are grieving, and then for the rest of us as moms to say, You’re not alone. Your grief cannot just be yours alone to carry, and there’s no more powerful day when we think about the love of our children and the need to protect them than Mother’s Day.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Arminda Baptista’s son was murdered in 2016. She was at the walk with a big team of family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. She said she had participated in the walk even before her son was killed.

ARMINDA BAPTISTE: My son AJ was 21, a humbling, loving, friendly, sweet young man who was getting a haircut at our local barber shop, and while he was sitting in the chair, some individual felt like he should just take his life, and my life has been totally a disaster since then.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Have you taken advantage of any of the services the peace institute offers regarding survivors of violence?

ARMINDA BAPTISTE: I’ve done some. It’s been a little hard. I’m just getting my feet back on the ground and wrap myself around everything that has occurred, but I have done some.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What would you like to say to people who hear this about violence that takes the life of a family member?

ARMINDA BAPTISTE: That as an individual who takes the life of another individual, you’re actually ruining a whole family – the siblings, the aunts, the mom – whatever your cruelty was against my son, my son’s at peace, but who’s suffering, is his family. That’s the hardest part. I can’t look at my kids because it’s so hard, because they don’t have an older brother now. His 5-year-old brother’s asking for him every single day, when is he going to come home, because he still thinks he’s at school.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I think you’ve done a really good job of laying out, like you said, it’s not one individual against another individual.

ARMINDA BAPTISTE: No, it’s a whole family, a whole community, it just ruins everyone. And they don’t think about the consequences or what’s going to happen. These individuals need more love and peace in their hearts. I think that’s what’s missing – the hard core of what’s missing. 

Learn more about the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute by visiting www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org.

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