After the fourth or fifth call to mothers of murdered children, I started to wonder if maybe it was time to reconsider what makes a good Mother’s Day gift.
Did they hear what happened in court the week before? I asked. Since childhood a couple had known the man accused of killing Aleida Garcia’s son in 2015, and they stood up, despite having left town in fear after going to police. They told a jury what they’d seen. It helped put a killer behind bars.
If that could happen in Garcia’s case, I said, who’s to say it couldn’t happen in theirs?
Turns out, hope is hard to gift-wrap.
The moms were happy for Garcia, their sister in grief, but behind declarations that they believed someone would answer one day for killing their children, I sensed the doubt. Fear, really. Would the eyewitnesses — often, friends — who could help deliver justice for their families ever be moved to do what that couple had done? Would their children ever get justice?
“I was shocked,” Silvia Barretto said of the couple coming forward — and who could blame her? Two of Barretto’s children were murdered; a daughter in 2017 and a son in 1996. Both cases remain open.
After the jury’s verdict, Aleida Garcia let out a sigh and then turned to the women seated behind her, two loved ones of homicide victims whose murders had not been solved, and told them that their time was next.
“We’ll fight,” the mother who formed the National Homicide Justice Alliance after her son’s death told the women. And keep fighting until they got justice, too.
And in that moment, I believed it was possible.
I believed it even more when the next night I found myself in the basement of the Kimmel Center to see Doug Hirlinger’s “Dear Philadelphia” featuring M’Balia Singley, and Singley took to the stage to perform a piece inspired — a little — by my columns on gun violence.
When she read the names of the teenagers shot in 2017, which I included in a column urging people to look at the faces of the young people we had lost that year, I couldn’t help but tear up. I wish so badly that the mothers were there to see that their children had not been forgotten.
How many times had I sat with them while they wondered if anyone cared, what it would take for something to change in a city where the violence never seems to stop, that just recently experienced an especially violent 18 hours, where five people were killed?
Five more mothers added to an ever-growing fellowship.
How many times had I wondered if I was lying more to them or myself when I insisted that if people didn’t care, we’d find a way to make them, that we wouldn’t stop sharing their stories, or calling out the people who are paid — often handsomely — to do something, until they did?
That’s what’s behind Fill the Steps Against Gun Violence at the Art Museum, now in its third year — a reminder of how many people are affected by violence in this city. It’s everyone. All of us, so those steps should be full at 1 p.m. on June 11.
Some people know that. The mothers. The victims who survive the violence but who navigate long, painful roads, often alone. The detectives at a “next of kin” meeting I went to this week, who sat across from families and gave assurance that they were not giving up despite almost half of murders in Philly going unsolved.
Keep the faith. Never give up hope.
And so this week I got on the phone and called and texted the mothers, mothers who will spend Mother’s Day in cemeteries visiting their children. Every day they pray that soon they will be able to visit their children’s plots and tell them they got justice — as Garcia did after the man convicted of killing her son was sentenced to life.
When I reached out to Ashley Tosado, Silvia Barreto’s granddaughter, whose mother was killed last year, she said Garcia’s family was one of the lucky ones.
And she’s right, they are — but I’ve always believed that luck comes from showing up, standing up and never, ever giving up.
It’s no card, no bouquet of flowers.
But hope is a great gift, bettered only by justice.