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'Bittersweet': Metro Detroiters march for gun violence victims between Saturday shootings

Marnie Muñoz, The Detroit News on

Published in Political News

Hours between shootings that rocked Metro Detroit on Saturday, residents marched along east Detroit streets with photos of deceased loved ones in an annual procession honoring shooting victims.

The gathering helped Robin Sykes, 62, feel less alone in her grief, the Detroit resident told The Detroit News.

“Everyone has been affected, and we’re all trying to do something about it,” Sykes said of the crowd gathered outside Church of the Messiah, where the march began from the corner of Lafayette and East Grand Boulevard.

Sykes’ 21-year-old son, Joe-Von Cole, died in a 2013 shooting in Novi, she said. Cole’s death shook Sykes, launching her into a journey through grief that ultimately brought her into community with other Detroit residents impacted by gun violence, she said.

A familiar tragedy

Six people were shot at a Southfield home just after midnight early Saturday, sending two people to a hospital with critical injuries.

Metro Detroiters marched in the 17th annual Silence the Violence march at 10 a.m.

A gunman shot nine people at a Rochester Hills splash pad seven hours later in an overwhelmingly familiar scene Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard described as a “nightmare.”

"Under no circumstances in this country, particularly in Rochester Hills, should fathers be spending Father's Day in a hospital," U.S. Rep. John James, a Republican representing Rochester Hills in Congress, said at a press briefing on the evening shooting. "I'm looking forward to continuing to work — without politics. This is an American epidemic that we need to fix, gun violence needs to stop, and we are now most recently hit hardest by it."

Detroit officials recorded 252 homicides in 2023, marking a record low since 1966, while 804 nonfatal shootings in the city marked another decline for that crime for the fourth straight year.

Metro Detroit residents at Saturday’s march said they wanted more than gradual policy changes – they want gun violence eradicated permanently.

Frustrated by the deaths of multiple young people in the neighborhood, the Rev. Barry Randolph coordinated the first Silence the Violence march in 2008 with other members of the Church of the Messiah, he said.

What began as a victims’ memorial grew to a statewide event through the years as Michigan residents began connecting over the pain gun violence introduced to their lives, he said.

Saturday’s gathering came a day after the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on bump stocks, which are rapid-fire gun accessories a 2017 gunman used to kill dozens in a Las Vegas shooting.

Despite news of the ban, Randolph said he continues to remind his east Detroit community that gun violence is a man-made problem, which means the crisis is not insurmountable.

That reminder and the day-to-day efforts of neighbors working together are soothing, but nothing can erase how extensively gun violence trauma has changed his congregation’s lives, he said.

“They’re sometimes afraid of being able to go to school, afraid of the sound of gunshots at night,” he said of children in the congregation. “For some of them, the younger ones, they’re afraid they won’t live to be 25. They think they’re going to be murdered too.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Detroit City Councilman Fred Durhal III, and several other local leaders vowed to renew gun safety measures at the start of Saturday’s march, where Detroit police were also present.

“The tools are on the table and now we must use them,” Gilchrist said in an opening speech.

 

'We all play a part'

Michigan gun laws and federal reforms can’t singlehandedly curb gun violence, Sykes said.

Sykes wants to see city leaders direct their attention to assisting Detroit residents who struggle with their mental health, she said. Focusing on community wellness could be a more effective, proactive part of meaningfully ending gun violence, she said.

Sykes attended the Silence the Violence march for the first time on Saturday as part of Prisoners Doing the Right Thing. The local nonprofit offers community resources for Black Detroiters and formerly incarcerated people.

Prisoners Doing the Right Thing is just one part of what Sykes envisions when it comes to community care, she said.

“We all play a part,” she said. “I see hope right here.”

Hope brought Tianwanna Rankin to the march, too, she said.

The Detroit resident brought boxes of free meal kits for families and children in the neighborhood through her community aid organization, Justice 4 Jada. Rankin founded the nonprofit after a shooter killed her 15-year-old daughter in 2016 in west Detroit.

Despite fewer homicides in the past year, police and legislators have not kept up the pace in solving open cases, Rankin said. Rankin and her family waited for four years as police investigations stalled before she independently sought more information about her daughter’s shooter, she said.

Detroit Police Department officials said police solved 52% of homicide cases in 2023. DPD’s rate matches the national homicide closure rate, according to the Murder Accountability Project.

“For me it is bittersweet,” Rankin said of Saturday’s march.

The march drew in residents across age groups and Metro Detroit cities. Gun violence came into their lives, caused tragedy, and appeared pervasively in their periphery ever since, attendees told The Detroit News.

Jeb Bettis, 71, said his wife still experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after hiding in a cabinet while a gunman fatally shot four employees at a Royal Oak post office in 1991.

Keisha Harris, 19, and Adaja Jones, 23, came to the march seeking closure after their grade-school friend, Dyamond Batiste, was murdered on Nov. 15, 2023, the Clinton Township and Madison Heights residents said.

Dressed in orange shirts to honor gun violence victims, Metro Detroit residents marched along Lafayette Street Saturday afternoon, chanting “Silence the violence,” and “This our city, keep it safe.”

The march, with its band and dancers, community fair and crowds, held many moments of joy as residents came together. Some said they wished it wasn’t gun violence that was bringing them together.

“I wish I didn’t have to be here,” Durhal said in a speech. “I wish that none of us had to be here this morning.”

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©2024 The Detroit News. Visit detroitnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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