Mothers of homicide victims joined prosecutors and law enforcement Sunday to push for solutions as Birmingham struggles with high rates of violence.
The event, organized by Voices of Black Mothers United, happened at Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and included information about resources for victims of violent crime.
It also featured a panel discussion about potential solutions, which included an increased focus on the family and changes to the judicial system to hold more suspects in jail prior to trial.
Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr spoke at the event. He said he spent part of the weekend in Dadeville, working with prosecutors who are handling a recent mass shooting.
“I cried because there are so many young people who look like us continuing to kill each other,” Carr said. “I wonder why we can’t find that to be a problem.”
Carr said too many young people have adopted a cavalier attitude about having and using guns.
“The real issue is how are we dealing with the mindset of these young people,” Carr said. “What’s the deal with guns? Why do so many young people have guns? Too many will say: ‘Dead guys don’t get out of graves but guys with guns get out of jail.’”
Sheree Kennon, the founder of What About Us, a support group for parents who have lost children to gun violence, lamented the lack of public officials at the event.
“We are losing too many young Black children,” Kennon said. “I can’t stop it by myself. Where is our city council? Where is our mayor? Fixing this problem is going to take more than my voice.”
Last year, Birmingham experienced 144 homicides, the highest number in recent history. Already this year, the city has had 39 homicides, according to a representative from the police department.
The recent mass shooting in Dadeville killed four people and injured another 32 after gunfire erupted at a teenager’s birthday party. Six people between the ages of 15 and 20 have been arrested.
But most victims of gun violence don’t die in mass shootings that grab national headlines.
Jessica Barnes, a member of Voices for Black Mothers United Alabama, said her son died in 2018 at a gas station, just minutes after he walked out of her house.
Some participants said that change needs to start in the home, with parents who are more involved with children. Others said the solutions need to include the entire community, including officials and police.
Carr agreed with one mother who said too many accused murderers get out on bond before trial. “Each and every homicide, we are going to go to court, and we are asking that the person stay in jail,” he said.
Alabama residents recently voted in Aniah’s Law, which allows defendants for some crimes to be held without bail before trial.
Jeffrey Moore, mental health services coordinator for Jefferson County Public Schools, said his work has brought him into contact with children in crisis. He some parents often don’t know how to comfort kids who have lost friends to violence.
“I see a lot of pain,” Moore said. “After the media goes away, I’m dealing with those kids every day. The kids come to school just so they can have my team and they can cry all day.”
Parents need to better understand mental health and how to help children who are struggling, he said.