TRAUMA COMES in many forms. The current COVID-19 global pandemic is leaving behind the ripples of trauma in its wake as families and communities are robbed of loved ones. People all across America and from every walk of life are grappling with the scale and scope of this crisis and will face the upward battle towards a collective recovery. We can and we will overcome this virus, but we must be intentional about building ourselves back up afterwards—and that starts with treating our trauma.
For too many people, this is not the first nor the only systemic trauma they are working to overcome. The epidemic of homicide and violence tears at the bonds of community, particularly black and brown communities across the country. It shows up in our homes in the form of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence—violence that has only increased as a result of COVID-19 mandatory social distancing measures.
This past week, in the midst of the pandemic, we were robbed of the life of a 17-year-old girl, Alissa King, right here in Dorchester. Mere days later, a 10-year-old girl, was grazed by a stray bullet. While she is expected to recover from her physical injuries, we know this trauma will impact her life. Every community deserves to feel safe and that will require massive investments in research and education. It will require that we identify communities most at risk and direct our resources toward them with smart, strategic plans that center the dignity and healing of survivors. We need the kind of dedicated, focused response to homicide that our government is pursuing right now to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
When a loved one is stolen by homicide, the trauma lasts a lifetime. Neighborhoods are not only scarred by the homicide, but also by the aftermath of and response to it. Until recently, resources to address the “after” did not exist, but that changed with the creation of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. The Peace Institute was founded to end the re-victimization of Survivors of Homicide Victims and to address the systemic failures that perpetuate cycles of violence.
On a local scale, the impact of the Peace Institute’s work is felt profoundly. Today, surviving loved ones of homicide victims are met with far more equitable and compassionate protocols as they navigate the anger, grief, and shock of their loss. The Peace Institute works to uplift communities with peace-building efforts and stop the pain that leads to retaliation and more violence. But we know the epidemic of violence and murder extends far beyond our city limits. That is why the work of the Peace Institute—addressing the pain from murder with love, peace, and healing—needs to happen at the national level. It will take leadership, focus, and resources to disrupt and end the spread and cycle of violence and homicide.
This National Crime Victims’ Rights Week must be a prompt for all of us to commemorate the individuals and groups whose advocacy has propelled the victims’ rights movement forward for the past half-century. This week is about uplifting the victims of crime and their loved ones and instilling a sense of hope for justice and healing.
Throughout this past week, April 19–25, we pledged to be ambassadors for peace. We pledged to work with survivors and providers to honor the victims’ rights movement, celebrate the progress made, and recommit to further advancements in the struggle for peace. We pledge to educate the public and policymakers about the impact of murder on families and communities and uplift the peace-building efforts of survivors. We pledge to establish formal homicide response protocols that can be used across the country modeled on the Peace Institute’s first-of-its-kind partnership with the City of Boston. And we pledge to ensure that all families are served with compassionate and culturally competent care.
The impact of the Peace Institute will continue its reach beyond Boston. The Survivors’ Burial and Resource Guide is used by level one trauma centers in Boston and in communities across the country. The guide helps providers manage the crisis and chaos after a homicide, answering difficult but necessary questions about how to bury a loved one, how to navigate the criminal justice system, and how to begin healing during a time of deep grief and trauma. The Peace Institute recently released a national edition of the guide which can be used by survivors and providers across the country.
Imagine an America united in seeking peace and helping survivors move forward with a collective, positive purpose. The potential of this kind of intervention in cycles of violence is powerful. By joining in a shared remembrance and recognition, we can create a platform for community members to come together for real change.
Our world is more connected than ever. As we have seen with the spread of COVID-19, our freedoms and destinies are tied, and our actions today have a direct impact on our community tomorrow. We are all in this together, which is why this week is so important for everyone—survivors and allies alike. Uniting in grief and channeling it for good is the only way to build the world we all deserve.
Ayanna Pressley is the US Representative for the 7th Congressional District in Massachusetts. Clementina “Tina” Chéry is the president and CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Her son, Louis D. Brown, was killed in 1993.