Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Philadelphians put a face to gun violence at Art Museum steps

Faces of Philly gun violence gather on Art Museum steps

Folks impacted by gun violence gather at the Art Museum steps.
Folks impacted by gun violence gather at the Art Museum steps.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

THEY CAME alone to the Art Museum steps on Thursday, with the grief they wear like a second skin.

They came with others who know their pain, a growing fellowship of grieving friends and relatives left behind after gun violence took a loved one.

Some carried huge photos of young men, frozen in time. Mark Jones held a small photo that he still keeps in his wallet - of his 23-year-old son John Robert Jones, a SEPTA worker killed in 2005.

And as often as they could, they said their names.









And so many others . . . As of June 22, 537 people had been shot this year in Philly, compared to 460 at the same time last year. We have had 121 homicides so far this year, compared to 110 this time in 2015.

Terrence Davis, 18, was a soldier home on leave from boot camp when he was shot and killed on Oct. 18, 2008. His mother, Valrita Gordon, came wearing his field patrol hat and his dog tags.

"He never got to serve his country, but he did get to serve his God," she said, crying.

Earlier this week, I asked people who had been affected by gun violence to gather at the steps. I know . . . not exactly a lot of notice. But it felt like something that needed to be done.

It wasn't an anti-gun rally. Or a gun-control protest, although I was among those impressed with the sit-in over gun control led by civil-rights icon Rep. John Lewis.

It was a moment to gather the faces of gun violence in this city. The broken mothers and fathers. The numb brothers and sisters. The confused, hurting children who the dead often leave behind. The dedicated workers from CeaseFirePA, Philadelphia CeaseFire-Cure Violence, Temple University Hospital, who see the aftermath up close and call the violence what it is: a public health crisis.

It was a moment to focus attention on the daily death toll in Philadelphia while a nation continues to reel, at least for a little while longer, from the massacre in Orlando that claimed 49 lives.

It was a reminder of the deaths that so often go ignored, of the chaos in our own backyards.

Just hours before the gathering, a 4-year-old girl died after she was shot in the head inside her North Philadelphia home.

There was a moment on Thursday, as the group gathered to have a photo taken, when things got quiet, and I stared into many of their faces.

I wished there were more people there to bear witness to their loss, to their pain.

I wished that more of us cared about those suffering among us, that we grew as impassioned about doing something about gun violence after these individual deaths as we do about mass shootings.

The people who gathered on the steps, they are our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our fellow Philadelphians.

We can, and should, do better by them.

Their loss should be our loss.

Their fight should be our fight.

And shame on all of us when we lose sight of that.

While they stood there, Jones, the father who still carries his son's picture in his wallet, read a poem he wrote.

"We shall see them again," he said. "Love never dies."

Staff writer Steven Bohnel contributed to this column.