When Chantay Love saw Independence Mall lined with 1,700 vases of white flowers Monday, she couldn’t help but think of blood.
It’s dark, she knows. But Love, who runs a trauma services organization for Philadelphians affected by gun violence, felt immense pain when she saw the vases, each representing a life cut short by a gun in Pennsylvania over the last year.
“And for each person, another hundred people is impacted,” Love said. “That’s what I see: the collateral damage.”
On Tuesday, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in 2011, unveiled the temporary installation alongside Sen. Bob Casey and Philadelphians like Love who have lost family members to gun violence. Giffords cofounded her namesake advocacy organization, which in April funded a similar memorial on the National Mall in Washington There, 40,000 flowers represented the estimated number of Americans who die as a result of a gun each year.
The Philadelphia memorial is a smaller version of that, and what the organization, which lobbies for stronger gun restrictions, said is the first stop of a national tour. Giffords spoke briefly at the unveiling, telling those gathered that “stopping gun violence takes courage.”
Casey, a Democrat, called on his colleagues in Washington to pass legislation requiring universal background checks, and to allocate additional federal resources to support community-based violence intervention programs like Love’s organization, the EMIR (Every Murder Is Real) Healing Center.
“Although we gather to commemorate and even to mourn these Pennsylvanians,” Casey said, “this has to be more than that. This has to be a call to action.”
Eric Lundy, the organization’s deputy engagement director, said Giffords is taking its D.C. memorial to other states to serve as a reminder: While it may have felt as if there were fewer headline-grabbing mass shootings amid the pandemic, he said, “this violence never went away.”
“Philadelphia symbolizes freedom and independence, but the fact of the matter is a whole lot of folks across America are not actually free from the fear of gun violence,” he said. “It’s not a place that has had something that captured national attention for a week or two, but that doesn’t change the dynamics of what folks in North or West Philly are dealing with on a daily basis.”
In Philadelphia, the rate of homicides and shootings steadily rose since 2016, then exploded last summer.
In 2020, 499 people were killed in Philadelphia, the most since 1990, the deadliest year on record, when the city recorded 500 homicides. Of those killed, the vast majority were shot. So far in 2021, 347 people have been killed, an 18% increase from this time last year and more than were killed in all of 2017, according to police statistics.
The memorial on Independence Mall represents the estimated number of gun deaths in Pennsylvania over the last year: 1,700, a figure that includes both homicides and suicides.
That was meaningful for activist Rosalind Pichardo, whose brother and boyfriend were each fatally shot in separate incidents and whose sister died by suicide in 2000. She said her sister, Kathleen Pichardo, who was 23 when she died, struggled with mental health and shouldn’t have had access to a firearm.
She said the memorial was “therapeutic” for advocates like her who can grow weary of the relentlessness of gun violence in the city, meeting daily with families who have lost loved ones.
“Everyone is here,” she said, gesturing toward the vases. “So I get to be with everyone at the same time.”