At Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, we have spent the past two weeks reflecting on the deep pain and grief caused by the ongoing impact of structural racism in our country, and our own responsibility and role in building a safer, more caring, and racially equitable society. We recognize that George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade are just the most recent in a long line of murdered black and brown community members, including others in our own city. As advocates for victims of violence in South Philadelphia for over thirty years, V/WSSP supports and uplifts voices locally and across the country demanding justice and accountability for the grief and trauma these losses have caused. 

 

The role of the victim advocate is particularly heavy in moments like these. For every story of violence and brutality that makes it to the media, there are hundreds of others which do not. We are privy to many of these stories, these private heartbreaks, on a daily basis. We want to raise up the grieving of all in our communities who are struggling for survival under an oppressive system, including black Philadelphians and other community members of color who face disproportionate harms. 

 

We know that this moment does not occur in a vacuum. It is the result of laws and policies that have resulted in the mass incarceration and criminalization of black men and women and other communities of color, which normalize toxic and underfunded schools, which justify the inability of communities of color to access quality affordable healthcare, and which continue to block access to safe and affordable housing through redlining and other racist zoning policies.  

 

We stand with individuals and communities asserting their right to justice, their need for accountability, and their belief in the right to heal. We are inspired by the self-determination and agency of our neighbors in Philadelphia and around the country asserting their rights. We are hopeful that in raising our voices collectively and naming the cruelty and violence embedded in our culture, we can work towards dismantling the systems which do not serve us and replace them with equitable investment.

 

We need to think deeply about how we truly make ourselves and our communities safe and what endangers so many of us. We should prioritize investment in our public schools, investment in our students and youth, investments in public health infrastructure and mental health infrastructure -- investments which will strengthen the resiliency of our neighborhoods and families, and allow us to continue keeping each other safe. 

 

We will continue to collectively envision a community in which the dignity and safety of everyone is upheld equally. We will continue to deepen our understanding of how racially inequitable systems cause harm to our fellow community members and how V/WSSP can use its expertise and relationships to address those harms and re-imagine those systems. Above all, we will continue to advocate for the safety and well-being of victims of violence in South Philadelphia.

 

- Without justice, there can be no peace.