Helene Pierson, executive director of the housing agency Heart of Camden and a 2010 Inquirer Citizen of the Year, has written to Gov. Christie three times in the last six weeks. She wants him to visit Camden and address the fact that Camden this year broke its annual homicide record -- 67 so far, compared to the previous record of 58 in 1995. Specifically, Pierson wants Christie to visit the area outside City Hall where volunteers have planted crosses for every 2012 murder victim.
Pierson said she has yet to get anything beyond an automated response from the folks who handle constituent relations in Christie's office. I know that Christie does respond -- sometimes personally -- to constituent letters that he reads. I also know that he receives tens of thousands of messages to his office.
Here's Pierson's first letter, sent Nov. 15:
Dear Governor Christie:
Will you come visit the faces of Camden City? It has been the most violent year on record. Safety is substantially compromised. Our residents have all been traumatized with the height of the breakdown coming after two young innocent children were killed back-to-back in horrific circumstances. In our City, there has been a long history of suppression of the pain. We are taught to tuck it away, immediately. We are not taught this verbally, but by the treatment of this crisis as normal, lack of public acknowledgment and the silence. It hurts our people.
All I am asking is that you come visit some of the murder victims' families and friends. Offer some comfort, and a hug. Show that them that you care:
--The mother and sisters of Dominick Andujor: Dominick was a bright 6 year old who played tee ball. While Dominick's mother was in the hospital, a man on laced marijuana tried to rape his 12-year old sister. He died trying to save her.
--The mothers of Quanyrah Houston and Kenny Holmes who were stars in a difficult public school system who died tragically in a fire that seems to have been set intentionally.
--The mother of a young woman who was shot in the face after her 4 year old's birthday party along with 4 other innocent victims; including Khalil Gibson, a 19 year old college student who also was murdered in the attack.
Those are the innocents. There are so many good families in pain, because of young men that were involved in subversive activity for various reasons, who deserve a hug as well. There are families of victims that were killed in domestic violence circumstances.
We all need you to cry and mourn with us in an effort to heal in this year that should never happen again. This is not normal.
A volunteer group with which I am associated--S.T.O.P--Stop Trauma on People has erected crosses for all the murder victims at City Hall. Will you come visit them with us?
...If you cannot make this event but are willing to come, please let us know. If you are up for something more, we could follow a cross visit with a small discussion at our South Camden Theatre to share the diversity of opinions on how we can move forward.
This request is not one that should be heavily escorted through political channels, but you can trust that you would be in good hands. Official government capacity escorts are just fine and Senator Donald Norcross, Assemblyman Fuentes, and Police Chief J. Scott Thomson have all been to the crosses to grieve with the families.
I hope you will come. Our City needs to know that people care. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and I look forward to meeting you soon.
Heart of Camden