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Survivors rally to raise awareness of crime impact on victims, families

“We’re healing through action.”

It was a phrase chanted with fervor at the Capitol Tuesday by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

During a march from Trinity Methodist Church on Park Avenue and a prayer circle at the Capitol, hundreds of survivors gathered to commemorate the lives of loved ones who died due to crime and to advocate for victim services and crime prevention.

Their dead loved ones’ names echoed through the rotunda followed by the phrase.

“Antonio Brown.”

“Frederick Johnson.”

“Willie Dixon.”

Their lives may have ended, but their relatives are the survivors who carry their stories.

Dixon was Doris Strong’s father, who worked for Florida State University for 23 years as a custodian, she said. Strong’s step-brother shot and killed him five years ago.

“It impacted me a lot because I was a daddy’s girl,” said Strong, a state worker accountant. “My dad was a very hardworking man.”

She misses their weekly phone calls, the quirky nicknames the 83-year-old would call his grandkids — “that boy,” and “that girl.” She misses how she’d bake for him, take him grocery shopping and care for him at his south side home.

Strong said she marched Tuesday because she wants to call for new policies focused on healing the trauma of families grappling with loss due to crime.

She emphasized the phrase “crime survivors” encompasses people who have lost others due to crime — not just people who went through a crime themselves.

“It’s the whole family” that’s impacted, she said. She’s visited prisoners as part of a victim awareness program to “let them see a face of a person that’s been victimized — hear their story, how it affects their lives after the crime.”

Mary J. Vazquez, a Dade City mental health therapist, joined the procession. In Pasco County, she works with crime victims and victim’s families who are at a loss for self-care after perpetrators are locked up.

“Police officers, they do their job and they help the victim, but we tend to fall through the cracks,” she said. “What happens to mom, what happens to dad, what happens to siblings that are affected by the crime? So, lots of times, we seek help for the victim, but then the family system’s not healed. If the family system is not healed, trauma is all around.”

 She added that locking up a perpetrator helps — but doesn’t necessarily heal the trauma a victim or victim’s family experiences.

“The healing has to come as far as wrap-around services versus just concentrating on the victim, or putting the perpetrator away,” Vazquez said.

Shakyra Diaz, managing director at Crime Survivors, echoed Vazquez.

“Too many of our resources are going towards incarceration,” she said, “and not ensuring and increasing public safety.”

Nada Hassanein
Tallahassee Democrat

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