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Survivors speak for safe communities

My son Juwan died the day before his 18th birthday.

We still don’t know for sure who killed him. The police say they don’t have a motive, let alone enough evidence to make an arrest. It almost feels like his death doesn’t matter. Studies show my loss isn’t unique. In California and nationally, communities most harmed by violent crimes are more likely to be low-income, younger than 30, and Latino or African-American. At the same time, they are the least likely to be helped.

Every day, I honor the life my son would have led. He had a knack for refurbishing old Jordan basketball shoes and was on his way to drop off a pair to a friend on his bike around the time he was shot. So, I raised money to donate almost 150 pairs of shoes to needy families last Christmas. I feed people at homeless shelters. And I organize local events to support others who’ve lost their children to violence.

I am also involved with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a statewide movement of thousands of crime survivors who are working to create a justice system that prioritizes healing, rehabilitation and recovery, not more prisons and jails.

We recently organized the Survivors Speak Stockton: Breaking Silence event, where we offered healing dialogue, community building, and trainings to counter community violence. Nearly 200 people participated in the event to share our stories, honor our loved ones and call for new safety priorities that reflect the needs of crime survivors.

On Tuesday, I joined more than 500 survivors for the statewide Survivors Speak event in Sacramento, which took place during National Crime Victims’ Rights week. I wanted to be with others who have experienced my pain. I wanted to hear their stories to help my own process of healing. And in sharing my own story, I wanted to help others heal.

I truly believe that if we only focus on punishment after a crime has occurred to improve public safety, we fall short. Research shows that more than half of violent crime goes unreported, and even when reported, fewer than half result in an arrest. Only by advocating for smarter policies that can prevent crime, improve the justice system, and better support survivors, our families and our communities, can we stop the cycles of victimization and crime. To get there, there are several concrete steps we can take.

First, we need to double the number of underserved crime survivors who are able to access programs funded by federal Victims of Crime Act. While I received some support to help pay for my son’s funeral expenses, I didn’t know there were other services available. By evaluating where the money currently goes and the demographics of the recipients, we can make better investments into communities and regions where access is limited.

Second, we must double the number of trauma recovery centers across California in the next two years to provide

survivors and their family members comprehensive services to address and recover from violent crimes. Stockton now has one trauma recovery center, thanks to the work of crime survivors.

I wish such a resource was available for me. I felt alone in the world after Juwan died. It became hard to function. I missed work. I didn’t eat right. It took many months for me to pull myself out of depression for the sake of my two other children who needed their mom back. Access to healing for my trauma and grief would have been invaluable.

Third, we have to double the number of restorative justice programs in California aimed at addressing harm and restoring communities. Restorative justice works to address the harm caused by crime, restore the victim and community, and address the underlying drivers facing the person that committed the crime.

And finally, California must develop a comprehensive plan to scale up crime prevention, community-based mental health treatment and rehabilitation. By investing in programs that work, we can stop the cycle of violence, save money, and protect survivors more effectively.

By taking these recommendations from survivors like me, we can create a justice system that truly keeps our communities safe.

Jessica Sewell is the founder of Justice for Juwan and a coordinator for Stockton Angel Mothers.

Jessica Sewell
The Stockton Record

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