Victims of crime speak out

Shirley Hawkins | 4/29/2009, 5 p.m.

Los Angeles, CA.--Candles were lit and tears trickled down the faces of mothers, fathers, friends and relatives Sunday evening in Leimert Park as they remembered loved ones who had been murdered by violent crime.

A coalition of victims rights groups also attended the Victim's Rights Candlelight Vigil to kick off National Victims of Crime Awareness Week that is being held from April 26 through May 2.

Emotions ran high as attendees recalled their loved ones who had been gunned down by senseless violence as they displayed photos of deceased loved ones.

As violent crime continues to spiral and claim lives in the South Los Angeles community, grassroots organizations are collaborating to call attention to the solved and unsolved murders that are claiming the lives of young and old alike.

"People seem not to want to support the victims of crime and we need to show some support for these victims," said Lawanda Hawkins, founder of Justice for Murdered Children who organized the victim's rights vigil.

The gathering was also held to publicize Marsy's Law, the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights Act, which affords victims of crime many of the constitutional rights currently afforded to accused and convicted criminals. The ballot, known as Proposition 9, was passed by California voters in November by 54 percent.

"Marsy's Law ensures that all victims are treated with justice and due process," said Hawkins.
"But many victims of violent crime do not know that Marsy's Law exists. We are trying to get the word out."

Steve Ipson, president of the association of deputy district attorneys who was at the vigil, said he was one of the prosecutors called upon by Dr. Henry Nicholas, creator of Marsy's law, to assemble the victim's bill of rights. "Dr. Nicholas led the team of prosecutors to write Marsy's Law after his sister, Marsy Nicholas, was murdered."

Charlotte Austin-Jordan, founder of Save Our Sons, said that she is gratified that Marsy's Law will now protect victims of violent crime. "Our community continues to be saturated with domestic urban terrorism," Austin-Jordan observed. "Other groups, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, get national attention, but our mothers have to hold car washes to bury their babies. We have to beg and plead for money to bury our children. Victims of violent crime are not receiving the rights and recognition they deserve," she observed.

Austin-Jordan, who waved a poster commemorating 11 of her family members murdered by violent crime, said that she is still grieving over the death of her two children. Her 13-year-old daughter was shot 15 times by gang members in a case of mistaken identity. Her son was shot and killed by gang members when he was accosted coming home from work.

"There seems to be a disassociation when it comes to victims rights," said Austin-Jordan, who said that there were no support groups in place for victims during her children's court cases. "We were being totally ignored by the system that protects the perpetrator," she said. "African American victims of violent crime don't even know where to get help, and I think there's a lack of attention when the victim is black because usually the homicide is a black-on-black crime. Many times, victims of violent crime don't even know when the perpetrator is getting paroled," she said.