Moth­ers call for peace, for­give­ness

March hon­ors sons and daugh­ters who were shoot­ing vic­tims

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Sarah Gantz

It was a late Mon­day night this past Au­gust when Chanel Gask­ins got the phone call she never thought she’d re­ceive: Her 13-year-old daugh­ter had been shot and killed out­side a 7-Eleven in Mid­dle River, not a mile from home, in a neigh­bor­hood she had al­ways considered safe.

“I didn’t ask any ques­tions,” she said. “I just got up and ran.”

Gask­ins joined at least 30 other moth­ers, grand­moth­ers and chil­dren Satur­day evening for a peace and for­give­ness walk in North­east Bal­ti­more’s Belair-Edi­son neigh­bor­hood. The walk was or­ga­nized by the Moth­ers of Mur­dered Sons and Daugh­ters, known as MOMS, to raise aware­ness about the toll gun vi­o­lence takes on fam­i­lies and send a mes­sage that enough is enough.

“Too many peo­ple think to solve the prob­lem is to pick up a gun,” Gask­ins said. “I’m will­ing to take a stand.”

With more than 260 homi­cides in Bal­ti­more so far in 2017, a 13 per­cent in­crease over last year, the group’s mes­sage is more important than ever, said MOMS founder Daphne Alston. “We’re say­ing, as the moms who have lost our chil­dren — and most of us do not have solved cases — we’re will­ing to for­give what you all have done,” she said, “if you all change your ways and stop this sense­less vi­o­lence.”

The walk started at the cor­ner of Belair Road and Ni­cholas Av­enue, the site of one of seven homi­cides over La­bor Day week­end. A makeshift memo­rial of empty wine and liquor bot­tles, teddy bears and syn­thetic roses was still as­sem­bled around a light post. “Love you kid” and “never for­got­ten” were among the mes­sages scrawled on the pole.

Alston said they came to this cor­ner to send a mes­sage of sup­port to neigh­bors. “The peo­ple here, they are scared, they are trau­ma­tized, they don’t have any hope,” Alston said. “We are the hope.”

Later, they planned to march in the city’s Bar­clay neigh­bor­hood.

Alston, whose 22-year-old son was killed nine years ago, said MOMS gives griev­ing fam­ily mem­bers a place to get help from oth­ers who un­der­stand from ex­pe­ri­ence what they’re going through. “The pain was just so great,” Alston re­called. “Your friends and fam­ily love you and all, but it’s hard talk­ing to them over and over again.”

Led by a po­lice es­cort, the group set off down Ni­cholas Av­enue around 5 p.m. chant­ing, “Enough is enough!” and “Stop the vi­o­lence, save our chil­dren!”

A few neigh­bors out on their front porches clapped and cheered them on.

“At the end of the day, they are the faces of all these num­bers and sta­tis­tics we see,” said Bal­ti­more State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn Mosby, who joined the group on the walk. “They should have a voice,” she said. “It’s the only thing that’s left.”

Cyn­thia Bruce of Manch­ester was walk­ing in mem­ory of her 23-year-old son, who was shot and killed in Bal­ti­more in July 2015. She joined MOMS shortly after her son’s death and said the group has been in­valu­able.

Events like Satur­day’s walk send an important mes­sage — one she said she hopes oth­ers out­side the group will be­gin to echo, “so Bal­ti­more will wake up, rise up and put the guns down.”

PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/CAP­I­TAL GAZETTE

Sa­jid Tarar, founder of Mus­lim Amer­i­cans for Trump, speaks Satur­day at a Mak­ing Amer­ica Great Again, Al­ready! rally in An­napo­lis while Jerry Cave, left, with Mary­land for Trump, and Jesse Singh, founder of Sikh Amer­i­cans for Trump, lis­ten.

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