No days off in the fight against gun vi­o­lence

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Ct Opinion - SU­SAN CAMP­BELL For in­for­ma­tion about Moth­ers United Against Vi­o­lence, go to www.face­book.com/ muavct. Su­san Camp­bell teaches at the Univer­sity of New Haven. She is the au­thor of “Dat­ing Je­sus: Fun­da­men­tal­ism, Fem­i­nism and the Amer­i­can Girl” and “Tem­pest

As the sea­son’s first snow­fall bar­reled to­ward Con­necti­cut ear­lier this month, the no­tices of clo­sures and de­lays started crawl­ing across tele­vi­sion screens. With a fore­cast of a half-foot and more of snow, res­i­dents were un­der­stand­ably cau­tious.

But when peo­ple asked the Rev. Henry Brown, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Moth­ers United Against Vi­o­lence, if his fundrais­ing din­ner sched­uled dur­ing the worst of the storm would be can­celed, he seemed per­plexed.

Can­celed? Why?

And so the Moth­ers United fundraiser went on. About 200 peo­ple at­tended — a third of the peo­ple who’d planned to come — be­cause a lit­tle bad weather will not in­ter­rupt them in their mis­sion.

Mem­bers of this group have al­ready braved the worst. They’ve lost sons, daugh­ters and other loved ones to gun vi­o­lence. In­stead of turn­ing in­ward, they’ve reached out. With mul­ti­ple vig­ils, street-cor­ner protests, tes­ti­mony at leg­isla­tive hear­ings and vis­its to homes raw with mourn­ing the dead, the Moth­ers United have been as in­vin­ci­ble as they need to be for the last 15 years. Be­fore Park­land, be­fore Tree of Life, be­fore Sandy Hook, they have been vig­i­lant, born of a need to cry “enough” long be­fore it was a hash­tag on Twit­ter.

Led by the unas­sum­ing Hen­ri­etta Beck­man, whose 20-year-old son was shot dead in Hart­ford in 2002, Moth­ers United works for pol­icy change while mem­bers act as the boots on the ground, of­fer­ing com­fort to fam­i­lies thrust into grief by gun vi­o­lence. When an­other child is lost to a bul­let, Brown, him­self a vic­tim of gun vi­o­lence, goes to the hos­pi­tal and asks if the fam­ily would like the sup­port of Moth­ers United, Beck­man said. If they say yes — and most do — they are then guided by oth­ers who’ve been where they are now. Some­times it’s a hug, and some­times it’s a quiet pres­ence as fam­i­lies find their way. Mem­bers of Moth­ers United have coun­seled some 400 fam­i­lies since they started, said Beck­man.

The fundraiser in­cluded speak­ers with a per­sonal ac­quain­tance with vi­o­lence. There was Aswad Thomas, a stand­out bas­ket­ball player who was shot on Al­bany Av­enue — twice — and now works for Al­liance for Safety and Jus­tice, and Randy Beck­man, the grand­son of Hen­ri­etta. Beck­man, a high school grad­u­ate who, his grand­mother hopes, is head­ing for col­lege, was a baby when his fa­ther was killed in Hart­ford. Beck­man said to other sur­vivors, “To all the youth out there who lost some­one — es­pe­cially a dad, not grow­ing up with your dad or a fa­ther fig­ure — don’t look out for the wrong way. There’s al­ways a bet­ter way.”

“They al­ways seem to man­age a per­fect bal­ance of shar­ing raw and heart­break­ing pain with hope and a cel­e­bra­tion of strength,” said Sarah A. Raskin, Trin­ity Col­lege psy­chol­ogy and neu­ro­science pro­fes­sor, who is on the board of CT Against Gun Vi­o­lence. “You leave feel­ing ready to keep go­ing and keep fight­ing for change de­spite the un­be­liev­able grief that’s been shared.”

For Thomas, the mem­bers of Moth­ers United were a life­line. He said no one else reached out to his fam­ily af­ter he was shot in 2009 by a stranger in a Hart­ford con­ve­nience store park­ing lot for rea­sons that still aren’t clear. Moth­ers like Hen­ri­etta Beck­man knew his grief, and the im­pact of gun vi­o­lence on a fam­ily. Thomas also lost a best friend at age 10, and his fa­ther, old­est brother and first cousin have all been shot. The first cousin is par­a­lyzed from his wounds. Thomas went on to earn a mas­ter’s de­gree in so­cial work.

In Con­necti­cut, leg­is­la­tors re­acted af­ter the 2012 Sandy Hook shoot­ings with some of the na­tion’s most strin­gent gun leg­is­la­tion. Since then, Con­necti­cut has con­sis­tently ranked among states with a re­duced rate of gun deaths. Sen­si­ble gun leg­is­la­tion works, but we can al­ways do more. We can, as sug­gested by CT Against Gun Vi­o­lence for the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion, make safe gun stor­age a law. And we can reg­u­late so­called “ghost guns,” firearms that are the prod­ucts of do-it-your­self kits, which are un­trace­able and re­quire no back­ground check.

Moth­ers United will stand vig­i­lant. They al­ways do. But it takes pol­icy and steel­willed leg­is­la­tors to help stop a bul­let.

MARA LAVITT/SPE­CIAL TO THE COURANT

A can­dle­light vigil, at­tended by mem­bers of Moth­ers United Against Vi­o­lence, is held in mem­ory of Luz Rosado out­side her Hart­ford fam­ily’s home last year.

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