Hundreds of St. Louis-area residents took to the streets on Saturday to call attention to gun violence.
The demonstrators took part in a silent march along Grand Avenue through the JeffVanderLou neighborhood, carrying signs that read “we can end gun violence” and “life is precious.” The event coincided with Wear Orange Weekend, an annual campaign against gun violence held nationwide.
Tonese Jones, a resident of Moline Acres in north St. Louis County, was among the crowd. Gun violence has caused lifelong trauma in many families, she said, including her own.
“I have a son who has been tremendously affected by gun violence. He lost his father at five years old,” Jones said. “It really hurts my heart to see so many other people, young men especially, losing their lives to the same thing.”
The march, which was spearheaded by the St. Louis nonprofit Better Family Life, featured opening remarks by Mayor Lyda Krewson and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards.
“I look around this crowd, and I think we’re already changing the narrative,” Krewson said, before thanking community members working to address crime and gun violence in their own neighborhoods.
Under threatening skies, the crowd marched from St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church to Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club in north St. Louis. Members of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, including Police Chief John Hayden, marched alongside the demonstrators.
North St. Louis County resident Sylvia Ginger marched with her 20-year-old son, Kelvin, who has lost several friends to gun violence. He said he thinks their deaths could have been prevented.
“I’m pretty sure the people who lost their lives, it probably could have went differently had they talked it out,” he said. “It makes me feel bad to see all these lives lost for no reason.”
Event organizer James Clark said the goal of the march was not only to turn a spotlight on issues of gun violence, but also to encourage families to pay attention to relatives with “high-risk behaviors,” including chronic unemployment and drug use.
“Too often families watch their loved ones take a slow march to the graveyard or the penitentiary, and they say little to nothing about it,” said Clark, vice president of outreach at Better Family Life.
In that spirit, the march ended with a community fair at Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club, with representatives from a number of social-service organizations and drug-treatment facilities.
Several of the demonstrators, including Clark, pointed out that a single march will not put an end to gun violence. He said it’s the responsibility of families and neighborhoods to continue the momentum.
“While the march is one day, we’re going to challenge people to make the issue of crime and violence a constant topic in your church and in your living room until we can drive these numbers down,” said Clark. “We think that working together, we can turn St. Louis around.”
Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan