I attended a memorial service for Ciara Philumalee, 24, on Saturday night, July 29, at Warner Park. She’s the latest victim of gun violence in Madison this summer.
About 100 people showed up, mostly family and friends. A giant teddy bear with flowers decorated the space and participants held candles and black and white balloons.
Nick Philumalee, Ciara’s cousin, spoke on behalf of the family at the vigil, touching on his family’s pain and his cousin’s deep roots in the neighborhood.
There was also a contingent of Madison leaders including Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson and the Focus Interruption Coalition, alders Rebecca Kemble and Barbara McKinney, Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, anti-gun activist Timothy Maymon, and others.
It was a sad event, made sadder by the similarity of speeches given compared to the other killings in Madison this summer.
How many more times do we have to hear officials talk of “senseless killings” and how we don’t want to become a “mini-Chicago”?
How many heartbroken family members must speak of their pain and the beauty of their lost loved one?
How many speeches must we hear about loss and the incredible pain the families must be feeling?
How many times must we endure the stories about how people are killing each other and how communities need to call each other out and turn in the guns?
How many young people do we have to bury?
As Kaleem Caire, CEO of One City Learning Center, and other leaders have asserted this week, a large reason at the root of gun violence is the break down of the family. Too many kids are growing up without strong families. And without proper guidance, these kids turn to the streets. If we looked into the background of the shooters, it would probably be a safe bet that they didn’t do well in school and that their family lives were chaotic and stressful. That’s why we need places like One City Learning Center to give our most vulnerable children the best start to their young lives so that they enter school with the skills needed to succeed in a school system that struggles to teach kids of color.
That is truly the challenge.
When kids do not see themselves succeeding in school, they will choose the streets, where at least they have some status. To them, it doesn’t matter if that status could get them killed or thrown in jail. It’s better than feeling stupid in school. It’s better than not seeing a future other than a $10 per hour job after graduation.
But the thing that bothers me the most about the killings is this: Black-on-black crime perpetuates stereotypes about black people and that widens the racial divide and makes it harder to achieve racial equality. When white people kill each other, no one assumes that all white people are killers. Unfortunately, black people do not have the same luxury. It is commonly asserted that black people are just more violent and dangerous. Why else would innocent black people be shot by police for no reason? These sentiments are ingrained in our subconscious and they are etched a little deeper with each killing.
Madison has a reputation as a shining city on the hill, and that reputation is stained by these killings. Without a drastic change, we know the outcomes will continue to be.
For better or worse, Chief Koval will get his wish of more police. More memorials will take place with more speeches. More fundraising will happen for more victims. And more people will fear black people and subsequently more policies — overt and covert — will be put in place to deal with this fear.
The summer of 2017 will probably go down as the bloodiest on record. The question is: What will we choose to do about it?
Do we run from fear? Point fingers? Or do we get down to the serious business of encouraging families to stay strong despite tremendous challenges and for Madison to make the changes that it needs to make to become that shining city for every single one of its citizens.