Helping survivors after homicide

We need a national effort to promoting healing and peace

FOR FAMILIES AND FRIENDS of victims, each homicide enthralls their lives, almost paralyzing them from day-to-day activities. All it takes is one homicide for it to impact dozens of lives.

A few weeks ago, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Attorney General Maura Healey called on elected officials across the country to support a national initiative to help survivors of homicide victims invest in a generation of peacemakers that end violence in underserved and marginalized communities in the US. The call came one day after four men were shot, one of them fatal in the Boston. Walsh and Healey spoke in the same neighborhood where the shootings took place as they appeared at an event marking the 25th anniversary of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and its work providing support to survivors of homicide victims.

I can especially understand why survivors need support and often feel paralyzed in these situations. My son, Louis D. Brown, the kid who loved Nintendo, reading, and creating projects, was shot and killed by a stray bullet during a gang-related shootout in 1992, while walking to a Teens Against Gang Violence meeting. My son wanted to change the perception that black children couldn’t do anything, and he was on his way to doing just that.

Although Louis’s life was cut short, his legacy lives on through the Peace Institute, which has provided comfort, assistance, and mental health services to countless survivors of homicide trauma. As we celebrate 25 years of equipping individuals with the emotional, social, and financial tools of support, we are excited to expand our Boston focus beyond ending violence and gun control to building a national movement of waging peace through the establishment of National Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month.

Throughout our 25 years, we’ve witnessed the toll homicide can have on those who have lost someone and the families on the other side of homicides. We are not only traumatized, but often blamed and accused of bad parenting or not providing a supportive environment for those whose lives were taken. We are stigmatized and labeled as bad mothers, fathers, and friends. These victim-blamers think we could have prevented the shooting and sometimes survivors give in to those thoughts. But that mentality – “secondary victimization” – is the exact reason survivors internalize their feelings, have longer recovery rates, and never heal or find peace.

My son wasn’t hanging out with the “wrong” people or causing harm to others. He was doing the “right” thing and going to the “right” place. As a survivor, how could victim-blamers blame me for his death?

Fortunately, we received an outpouring of support from the city, but what about the boys and girls, men and women who are killed while not necessarily doing the “right” thing or going to the “right” place? We never know what causes tragedy, which is why we must treat survivors with dignity and respect while championing and supporting them regardless of the situation.

As I continuously celebrate the life of my son and 25 years of the Peace Institute with the community of Boston and now the nation, I want to offer some thoughts for those who have suffered a loss at the hands of someone else.

  1. We are all victims when we lose someone because of violence. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve to grieve or that you are to blame. Whatever caused the loss of a loved one to violence, it is not your fault.
  2. There’s no single path to healing. No matter how bleak your situation feels, don’t compare it to others. We all have our own journey to healing, so find the one that works for you. Surround yourself with people who are supportive and non-judgmental and value others.
  3. Find your purpose. Find purpose in something that is meaningful to you. Many victims have come to realize there are a number of youth, families, and community members who are struggling and crying out for help all around us. Sadly, more than we realize. By extending a supportive hand to this community, we can not only help prevent a cycle of murder, trauma, grief and loss, but also help find purpose and healing.

As we continue another year of uncertainty on the heels of years of unrest surrounding violence and homicide, it’s time for us to embrace each other in support of our differences by building a national understanding movement for waging peace first by establishing National Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month across the country.

Meet the Author
Let’s commit to treating each other with compassion as those impacted by homicide trauma heal, teach and learn.

Clementina Chéry is president and CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute.