Confronting the other epidemic: Violence on the streets of our city

Today, our community is gripped by the national emergency of COVID-19. There is no one the virus will not affect. Even those who are less likely to become ill are facing job loss, decreased access to basic life necessities, or the mental struggle of social isolation. The long-lasting trauma from this crisis may be immeasurable.

If these words sound familiar, it’s because they should. We use some of these same phrases to describe the grief and trauma left behind in the wake of another national emergency: epidemic levels of violence in our neighborhoods. 

You never truly get over the sudden, violent death of someone you love. The grief ebbs and flows, but at its best, that grief becomes a driver for good during a time when everything feels awful. That motivation – that channeling of grief – is at the very heart of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. It drives us today as Survivors of Homicide Victims ourselves. 

I, Liz, ran for state representative of the Fifth Suffolk district because of the murder of my youngest brother Michael, who was a random victim of violence in Boston’s club district. I became a community activist, determined to make sure that everyone knew that one loss is too many.
I, Tina, started the Peace Institute in 1993 after the murder of my 15-year-old son Louis, who got caught in crossfire on his way to a Teens Against Gang Violence meeting. We know this fight requires us to call out violence for what it is, a cyclical injustice and symptom of generational trauma, inequity, and poverty. We know the voices of victims deserve to be amplified.

A trademark of the work at the Peace Institute is the training provided, focused on creating a coordinated, consistent, and compassionate response in the aftermath of a homicide. Every agency in response – law enforcement and beyond – should be collaborating to ensure equitable and effective protocols. We must strengthen our survivors’ network and victim compensation, and foster cultural competence to help a diverse population, particularly in Boston. 

The Peace Institute and the Legislature have worked to reach these goals together. We are grateful for the ongoing support from our legislators who have shown the same passion for the work that we do in the name of our lost loved ones. Locally, the City of Boston is recognized for its innovative approach, developing a survivor-centered protocol based on best practices. 

Over the last 25 years, the Peace Institute has become a changemaker in Boston, starting with the recognition of Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month (observed in Massachusetts from Nov. 20 to Dec. 20). We have provided grants for memorials for homicide victims, instituted a complete protocol with the City of Boston, and provided resources and support for families of victims that grow stronger in impact each year. This work locally has become a national model for other communities, which the Peace Institute will reach through our strategic growth plan to expand our programs and services nationwide. 

The Peace Institute is a pioneer to the City of Boston through the many partnerships it holds with the Boston Police Department, Boston trauma hospitals, Neighborhood Trauma Team Network, and more. Our mission extends beyond Boston. We’ve worked and are continuing to work with providers and institutional stakeholders across the state to develop their own coordinated and consistent response to homicide. 

Few can comprehend the aftermath of murder: the confusion, the anger, the deep sadness. The grief we feel drives us to make change.

Just 20 years ago, it was not unusual on the day their loved one was murdered for family members to walk out of a hospital with no resources or support system. Gun violence remains as prevalent today, growing to epidemic levels in the wake of mass shootings and gunfire in our own neighborhoods. But our response has evolved, bolstered by a new sense of humanity and compassion. Together, we seek to create a national movement of waging peace - a solution we can reach for the other epidemic we already face. 

Elizabeth “Liz” Miranda is the state representative for the Fifth Suffolk District. Her brother, Michael A. Miranda, was killed in 2017. Clementina “Tina” Chéry is the president and CEO of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Her son, Louis D. Brown, was killed in 1993.

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