Memorial to the Lost

Memorial to the Lost
at Chester Eastside Ministries

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

American Journal of Medicine: Homicide is, far and away, the leading cause of death for young black men

In 1925, in the classic novel An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser portrayed a poignant yet powerful picture of youthful loneliness in industrial society and of the American mirage that beckons some of the young to disaster.
In 2012, an American tragedy of far greater urgency and public health importance is the alarming rate of homicide among young black men. Interracial homicide, whether the victim or the perpetrator is black, is abhorrent. Nonetheless, from the perspective of the health of the general public, the circumstances in which a young black man is both the victim and the perpetrator cause far more premature deaths.

Homicide is, far and away, the leading cause of death of young black men. In stark contrast, accidents are, far and away, the leading cause of death among young nonblack men and women of all races and ethnicities. Black men are 6 times more likely to die as the result of and 7 times more likely to commit murder than their white counterparts. One eighth of the population is black, but one half of all homicide victims are black. Their reduced life expectancy of more than 6 years would be improved more from eliminating homicide than abolishing any other causes of death except cardiovascular disease or cancer.1

From 1999 to 2009, among those aged 15 to 34 years, there were 106,271 homicides, 85% (89,887) among men and 49% (52,265) among black men. One major and hotly debated issue is firearms. Specifically, 81% (85,643) of all homicides were due to firearms, including 91% (47,513) among black men.2 All attempts to address this complex issue should include, but not be limited to, optimizing the health of the general public, the strength of the existing evidence, and the constitutional right of individuals to bear arms.

In most circumstances, public health practitioners are charged to identify threats to the health of the community and to bring scientific evidence to the attention of policy makers, even if the threats are lawful and whether or not policy makers choose to act on that evidence. For example, cigarettes are both lawful and popular, but public health support of laws controlling their exposure to the general population has contributed to the reduction of the premature mortality they cause.

To date, however, this has not been the case for firearms. For policy makers proposing new gun laws, establishing an evidence-based legislative record may be especially important.3 Nonetheless, federal public health practitioners are barred from such activities, due, in part, to the Anti-Lobbying Act and a 1996 action by the Congress of the United States, which defines such activities as “lobbying,” which is considered a felony. Instead, federally employed public health officials are instructed by legislators to consider only the existing totality of available evidence. To date, this primarily includes descriptive data that are useful to formulate but not test hypotheses.4 Nobody would disagree that individual behavior change is an important and necessary strategy for lowering homicide rates, but there is legitimate debate about whether it would be sufficient. It seems plausible, if not likely, that major societal changes amenable to responsible government but beyond individual control also are needed to achieve decreases in premature mortality from homicide among young black men.

to read more, click here.

Today's Vigil at Millers

I was nervous about today's vigil at Miller's.  Our last vigil (early November) had been difficult -- there were counter-demonstrators who carried guns and made the time unpleasant.  However, we had met with Chief Gaspari of the Lower Chichester police force, who gave us contact info and stressed the commitment to our safety, and there was a police presence this time, which was very helpful.

Although a Nor'easter was forecast, the rain held off.  Delco United came to join us, and, best of all, Jed led us in song -- Amazing Grace, If I had a Hammer, all the old songs that have strengthened so many protesters before us.

It was a really good vigil.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In Today's Washington Post: More Guns, More Crime

"More guns, less crime" - surely you've heard this mantra before? There's even an entire book devoted to it. As Emily Badger noted awhile back, it has become a staple of our national gun control debate: "The idea that more guns lead to less crime appears on gun policy 'fact sheets,' as evidence debunking gun control 'myths,' in congressional committee reports."

The notion stems from a paper published in 1997 by economists John Lott and David Mustard, who looked at county-level crime data from 1977 to 1992 and concluded that "allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons deters violent crimes and it appears to produce no increase in accidental deaths." Of course, the study of gun crime has advanced significantly since then (no thanks to Congress). Some researchers have gone so far as to call Lott and Mustard's original study "completely discredited."

One of the major critiques of the study came from the National Research Council, which in 2004 extended the data through the year 2000 and ultimately concluded that "with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates." Or in other words, "More guns, less crime?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"

Now, Stanford law professor John Donohue and his colleagues have added another full decade to the analysis, extending it through 2010, and have concluded that the opposite of Lott and Mustard's original conclusion is true: more guns equal more crime.

to read more, click here.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Putting up the Memorial to the Lost at Chester's Refuge in Christ Church

A lady passing by stopped and pointed to one of the t-shirts -- I went to school with him.  I was with him the night before he was shot.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Guns and suicide: the hidden toll (Harvard School of Public Health)

In the national debate over gun violence—a debate stoked by mass murders such as last December’s tragedy in a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school—a glaring fact gets obscured: Far more people kill themselves with a firearm each year than are murdered with one. In 2010 in the U.S., 19,392 people committed suicide with guns, compared with 11,078 who were killed by others. According to Matthew Miller, associate director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC) at Harvard School of Public Health, “If every life is important, and if you’re trying to save people from dying by gunfire, then you can’t ignore nearly two-thirds of the people who are dying.” Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S.; in 2010, 38,364 people killed themselves. In more than half of these cases, they used firearms. Indeed, more people in this country kill themselves with guns than with all other intentional means combined, including hanging, poisoning or overdose, jumping, or cutting. Though guns are not the most common method by which people attempt suicide, they are the most lethal. About 85 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. (Drug overdose, the most widely used method in suicide attempts, is fatal in less than 3 percent of cases.) Moreover, guns are an irreversible solution to what is often a passing crisis. Suicidal individuals who take pills or inhale car exhaust or use razors have time to reconsider their actions or summon help. With a firearm, once the trigger is pulled, there’s no turning back.

Not “Why?” but “How?”

When we think of suicide, we usually think of a desperate act capping years of torment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, complex and deep-rooted problems—such as depression and other mental disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, and a family history of suicide—often shadow victims. Suicide among males is four times higher than among females. In adults, separation or divorce raises the risk of suicide attempts. In young people, physical or sexual abuse and disruptive behavior increase vulnerability.
Cut it however you want: In places where exposure to guns is higher, more people die of suicide. Deborah Azrael, associate director of the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center
to read more, click here

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Notes on Hosting the Memorial To the Lost

Getting the Memorial to the Lost (MTTL) to your host site:

The Swarthmore United Methodist Church is -- very, very kindly-- providing storage for the Memorial.

The address for the Church is: 129 Park Ave, Swarthmore, PA 19081

The MTTL consists of 160 pvc-pipe stands, each holding a t-shirt.
  1. 15 bundles of rebar (1' long) (which weigh maybe 15 lbs each)
  2. 3 large trash (new) trash cans that hold the 36" upright poles
  3. 4 large IKEA bags that hold the 1' cross pieces
  4. 4-5 large IKEA bags with the t-shirts
  5. 2 signs 
  6. 1 take-1 box
  7. a banner, held up by 2 shephards' crooks
  8. 1 bag with mallets, duct tape, work gloves, 4 4' spacers
You can jam the components of the MTTL in a bunch of cars with hatch-backs, but it's much easier if you can get a van / minivan/truck with a 38" high space that can hold the trash cans upright.

Erecting the MTTL:

Gibbs LaMotte has supervised the construction many, many times -- it is a huge help if he can come.

His email is

Each of the 160 stands takes about 16 square feet, so about 2,560 square feet total

You need a work crew of 10 or so people -- at least 4 need to be able-bodied enough to pound rebar into the ground.  They will each use a spacer to put up each rebar 4' back from the last row, and 4' across from the last rebar.

  • Make sure you have the tools, spacers, work gloves.
  • It's nice to have a pad for people to record contact info, if they're interested in getting involved with HGC
  • Update the flyer and make a hundred or so copies for the take-one box.
  • Appoint someone to take pictures of the group at work and the memorial once you've put it up.

Other people will put a 36" upright over each piece of rebar, attach the 1' side pieces, and fitting a t-shirt over each stand.

Whole process usually takes about an hour.

Send pictures and contact info for people who are interested  to

Taking Down the MTTL:

It helps a lot to have access to a van with a back at least 38" tall, able to hold the garbage cans upright.

Make sure you have work gloves, duct tape,

Contact the people who will be receiving the MTTL (either the next host or Swarthmore United Methodist Church) and tell them what time you will be delivering it (it takes less then an hour to take down the memorial).  Storing the memorial takes about 144 sq. feet. of storage.

You will need a work crew of 5-7 people, at least a couple of whom can pull up the rebar and make it into bundles of 10, fastened with duct tape.  You will also need people to wash the 160 t-shirts, ready for the next host.

Thank you so much for being a host and standing with us against gun violence.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The American Dream

From Gregg Voltz, who runs Youth Courts in Chester Schools

Several years ago there was a shooting close to Chester High School and students were excited as you can imagine. My class had been discussing the American Dream. A student who was in my youth court that year raised his hand. He said that since we had been discussing the American Dream he wanted to share his opinion of what the American Dream was. 

He said, "The American Dream is when you can wake up in the morning, go outside and not expect to be shot." I will never forget the impact that statement had on me when I contrasted this young man's daily reality with the quite different-and safer-experience I had growing up in Indiana. It never crossed my mind as a young child that I could be shot walking to school.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Memorial to the Lost at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church

Swarthmore Presbyterian Church updated the Memorial to the Lost, and installed it last weekend, on Peace Day.  Above are some pictures.

Peacemaking Adult Education Hours during October are  (all begin at 9:45)

October 5th:  Walt Davis:  Core Themes from "Zionism Unsettled"  Walt will also preach that day- World Communion Sunday
October 12th:  Frank Grunseich:  Socially Responsible Investing
October 19th:  Susan Landau:  Handling Difficult Conversations

These events will be held in Loeffler Chapel at Swarthmore Presbyterian Church.
All are welcome!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In today's Delco Times: Yesterday's prayer vigil at Miller's

LOWER CHICHESTER — On what would have been her slain son Breon Burton’s 31st birthday Tuesday, Marshelle Johnson shared her own wish for a gun shop owner as she demonstrated outside his Linwood store.

“You don’t have to give up your business. Just do the right thing,” said Johnson, who was among a group of about 20 people gathered outside Miller’s Sporting Goods as part of a twice-monthly protest coordinated by the Heeding God’s Call faith-based gun violence prevention group.

Demonstrators like Johnson want store owner Joseph Miller to sign Heeding God’s Call Code of Conduct and by doing so, eschew selling guns to straw buyers. They used a recent court case to underscore their point.

Two weeks ago, a Delaware County jury convicted Staci Dawson, 22, of Chester, in the straw purchase of a gun for her ex-boyfriend. She was found guilty on charges of conspiracy, making false reports to law enforcement and illegally selling or transferring firearms to another person — which carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence under the Brad Fox Law enacted in early 2013.
“We did tie a weapon to Miller’s, but there was no indication or evidence that Miller’s had committed any crime, or know that (Dawson) was going to give a weapon to a convicted felon” Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said Tuesday night.

to read more, click here

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bryan Miller's letter to the Delco Times: Straw Sales must be Stopped

Kudos all around to Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan and his determined staff of prosecutors for gaining conviction last week of a Chester woman, Staci Dawson, for illegally buying guns for someone else (straw purchasing) and to the Daily Times for recognizing the importance of the story and reporting it.

D.A. Whelan showed how committed he and his staff are to fighting the scourge of gun violence that devastates Chester by refusing to bail out on the case and bringing it to trial even after an initial loss, and by stating in no uncertain terms that anyone caught in Delco straw buying will be fully prosecuted.

The Daily Times’ coverage was an exemplary public service, as it reported the heavy price to be paid for straw purchase convictions. Getting that information out there, as the Daily Times did, could well convince potential straw buyers that the risk of “buying and lying” to provide guns to someone else is not worth it, which could lead to fewer straw buys, fewer guns in the wrong hands and fewer gun injuries and deaths.
However, it is disturbing that, while according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives the greatest portion of guns recovered by law enforcement from crime reach the criminal market through straw buying from licensed gun retailers, such gun stores are almost never held to account, largely because laws make them difficult to prosecute.

This is why Heeding God’s Call’s, the faith-based and grassroots movement to prevent gun violence, seeks to persuade gun dealers to adopt a code of conduct to make it far less likely they would ever sell to a straw buyer in future. The current campaign of our Chester/Delco volunteer chapter includes twice monthly faithful public witnesses at Miller’s Sporting Goods in Linwood, the very gun shop that made the gun sale for which Dawson was convicted. Note that the Daily Times reported late last year of another case involving a straw purchase at Miller’s, so it seems logical to focus our attention on the store, in close proximity to Chester.

Heeding God’s Call’s Code of Conduct is ten non-burdensome business practices intended to discourage straw buying. They include background checks and training for employees, videoing of transactions, software to flag potential purchasers who have had guns recovered from crime, signage to discourage straw buyers and more. The code has been adopted by Walmart, the nation’s largest gun seller. If Walmart, then why not Miller’s and all gun retailers?
 We have sought to meet with Miller’s owner, but have been met with a stonewall of refusal and, frankly, hostility. So, we maintain our public witness at the store, where we pray, sing, hold signs and chat with drivers passing by. Join us.

Executive Director,

Heeding God’s Call


to read more, click here

Sunday, August 31, 2014

From today's Murder Site Witness, at the corner of 8th and Welsh

It started to rain as we began today's Murder Site Witness, so 30 or so of us huddled under the awning in front of Ministries of Heaven out of the rain.  Among the mourners were the family of Erick Nieves, killed earlier this month, along with Movita Johnson-Harrell and her husband Yancy, (picture below) whose son was killed in 2011.
We are here today to mourn three men shot dead August 10th:

·         Erick Nieves, 36, killed on Rose Street

·         Marquis Tillery, 23, of Trainer, killed here where we stand

·         A third victim, aged 47,  whose name has not been made public, at the corner of Frank Young Ave. and Union St.

Their deaths bring to 20 the number of murders here in Chester – almost all men struck down in their youth – men who could have graduated from school, worked for their communities, married, raised children, celebrated with their extended family, comforted and cared for their parents as they aged.  Instead, they join the sad host of lives cut short by gun violence.

They leave behind them families burdened by grief, families now lacking a father / son / brother / nephew.  Families that will remember their deaths, year in and year out.

We are here today to mourn their deaths, and to resolve to fight the plague of illegal guns to the streets of Chester.  We are here to denounce the sales to straw buyers – that put guns in the hands of people who because mental illness, domestic abuse, past felonies, or sheer youth – should never have held these guns in the first place. 

We pray God to comfort the grieving families, to shelter the souls of Eric, Marquis, and the third man whose name we don’t know, under his wings.  We pray God to give us strength to combat this plague of murderous gun violence, and please join with me to say, AMEN.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chester woman convicted of straw purchases from Miller's sporting goods

By Alex Rose, Delaware County Daily Times
Posted: |

UPDATE: A jury Wednesday convicted a 22-year-old Chester woman in the straw gun purchase of a gun for her ex-boyfriend.

Staci Dawson, 22, was convicted of the straw purchase of two handguns for a convicted felon. She was found guilty on charges of conspiracy, making false reports to law enforcement and illegally selling or transferring firearms to another person, which carries a mandatory five-year mandatory minimum sentence under the Brad Fox Law enacted in early 2013.

Dawson was the first person charged in Delaware County under the new law, named for a Montgomery County police officer who was gunned down on duty by a suspect who obtained his gun through a straw purchase.

Dawson’s bail was revoked. Her sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 3 before Judge James Bradley.

Deputy District Attorney George Dawson prosecuted the case.

Dawson had been acquitted following a previous trial on charges of tampering with evidence and making false statements in the purchase of a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun and a Kel-Tec 9 mm pistol from a Lower Chichester sporting goods store in February 2013.

to read more, click here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

In today's Delco times -- A Terrible Year

By Patti Mengers, Delaware County Daily Times
Posted: |


Nearly two months ago, members of the Heeding God’s Call Chester/Delaware County Chapter launched their “T-shirt Memorial to the Lost” for the victims of gun violence outside Chester Eastside Ministries on the 400 block of East Ninth Street.

At the time they placed more than 140 T-shirts, each bearing the name of someone who had died from gun violence in Delaware County between 2009 and last April, on the lawn in tombstone fashion. Since June 22, nine more people have been shot to death in Delaware County.

Sunday afternoon, Fran Stier coordinated the installation of the T-shirt memorial on the front lawn of Ohev Shalom Synagogue at the intersection of routes 320 and 252 in Nether Providence where she has been a member for about 30 years.

“It brings home the human cost of gun violence in our midst,” said Stier.

Heeding God’s Call is struggling to keep up with the number of shirts needed to reflect the carnage which law enforcement officials have blamed on the illegal drug trade, turf wars and domestic violence, among other motives.

“We’re not fully current,” said Stier on Sunday afternoon before members of the anti-gun violence group began placing 144 t-shirts on the synagogue’s front lawn. “This has been a terrible year.”

Between Jan. 10 and Aug. 11, there have been 35 homicides in Delaware County, 25 due to gun violence. Twenty of those homicides have been in Chester, 19 due to gun violence. Since July 24 alone there have been eight shooting deaths in Delaware County -- five in Chester and one each in Yeadon, Ridley Township and Darby Borough .

“In numbers, they’re devastating to the community,” noted Stier.

To read more, click here

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Memorial to the Lost at Ohev Shalom

We had a wonderful turnout to put up the Memorial to the Lost on Ohev Shalom's lawn.  30 x 2 hands truly made light work -- the Memorial was up in less than an hour (pictures below).

Below is one of the dedication speeches.


The Chester-Delco Chapter of Heeding God’s Call worked as a team on this memorial, getting the information, getting the t-shirts, persuading Home Depot to give us good prices on the rebar and pvc pipe (and cut it up for free), finding t-shirts we could afford to buy in bulk.  Sister Jean, the nuns at the Mother House, Pastor Anita wrote the names, dates of death and age at death on each t-shirt, praying, sometimes crying as they wrote.

144 t-shirts on pvc stands, each one a life cut short by gun violence.  Many are young men, many are African-American, about 2/3 from the City of Chester.  Each one is someone’s child, someone’s sister or brother, someone’s niece or nephew.  Their death leaves a burden of grief on family members that most of us can’t imagine – and few services are available to the families of victims.

Last year, 3 members of the Chester Children’s chorus lost brothers to gun violence.  John Alston wrote a song in their memory for the chorus to sing-- we posted a copy below on our blog.  Listening to the chorus sing about their grief is one way to begin to understand the toll on the community from the loss of these young lives.

Last year, Chester a city of 34,000, saw 22 homicides, of which 5 were solved.  The rest of Delaware County (with about 530,000 population), saw 11 homicides, 10 of them solved.   So in Chester, not only do families of victims suffer the grief of children lost to homicide – overwhelmingly gun violence – but all too often they lack even the small comfort of seeing justice done, and seeing government work as it should.

We can’t just stand by and watch this happen.  Even if we’re a small group of people, with limited resources, and limited strength.

Lev 19:16 reads (in Hebrew) Lo t’amod al dam re’echa – literally, do not stand on your neighbors blood.  The Rabbis of the Talmud interpreted this to say:  If you know someone is in danger, you need to try hard to rescue that person. You can’t just stand there.  The verse says “your neighbor’s blood”, not “your brother’s blood” to teach us the obligation applies to people in danger in all communities, not just our own.

Straw purchases put guns into the hands of felons, domestic abusers, kids too young to know what they’re doing.  Reducing straw purchases won’t stop all homicides – no one thing will.  

But the Rabbis of the Talmud teach us that even when it is not given to us to complete an important work, we are still not free to stop.  We need to do as much as we can.