At Detroit anti-violence rally, victims remembered

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit - Parents and civic leaders weren’t the only ones attending a rally against gun violence Thursday night.

The 100 participants were joined by an equal number of children killed in the violence. The young victims, whose photos were contained on hand-held signs, joined the participants in a blocks-long march to Church of the Messiah.

The victims joined the participants inside the church, one poster photo per pew.

And the victims’ faces filled several large poster boards along the church’s altar.

“This is about the children,” said resident Tori Ferguson. “This has to stop.”

The rally was part of a national Gun Violence Awareness Day, with other Michigan events held in Ypsilanti, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Midland and comes as violence against Detroit children has spiked. By the end of May, eight children were killed or injured by gunfire in two months.

The rally also came as the family of Deontae Mitchell learned his body had been found after the 13-year-old was abducted at gunpoint Tuesday night from a Detroit market.

During the march along Grand Boulevard, several participants banged bass drums, with the sound resounding through the neighborhood.

Many marchers wore orange, the color of the national events. Their ages ranged from youths to the elderly.

Inside the old church, which was muggy from the warm day, several participants fanned themselves as they listened to several speakers.

One speaker was Detroit Councilwoman Mary Sheffield, who said residents need to do a better job supporting the police in fighting crime.

“How can we not be fed up and fired up,” she said to applause. “The police can’t do it by themselves.”

Sheffield said violence was just one issue that needs to be tackled in the city.

She said many residents also need help with jobs, housing and mental health issues.

Resident Ray Winans told the crowd how he led a life of crime that had him dealing with state and federal parole at the same time.

He said he finally turned his life around through religion.

Like Sheffield, he said people need to join together and with the police to fight the violence problem.

“We have to be in it together,” he said. “That’s the only way it will work.”

But Winans, a former gang member, said he was heartened by the group that turned out to fight the problem.

Between a former gang member, a councilwoman and a preacher, Pastor Barry Randolph of the Church of the Messiah said the group had a myriad of ways to bring their message to the youth.