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.

Gwendolyn Stuart-Singleton, founder of Striving Toward Eradicating Violence in the Inner City, (S.T.E.V.I.E.) said her son, Stevie Singleton, was shot on the lawn of a home in South Los Angeles. “The Crips and the Bloods gangs were holding funerals less than two blocks from each other. There was no security in sight,” said Stuart-Singleton. “A young man leaving one of the funerals drove by and shot Stevie in the temple and the chest. He died instantly.”

Gaining her composure, Stuart-Singleton reflected, “Stevie was a third-year law student and left behind a five-year-old daughter. Lives were shattered that day. I lost my hopes, dreams and aspirations,” said Stuart-Singleton, adding that the $50,000 reward for her son’s uncaught murderer was recently increased to $500,000.

Since founding S.T.E.V.I.E., Stuart-Singleton said she has touched the lives of 271 families marred by violence. “I’ve sat up with mothers all night who did not know when the murderers of their children were coming to trial. I realized that the victims don’t know their rights,” said Stuart-Singleton, who added that that is why she founded S.T.E.V.I.E. “But we stay with that family from day one. We help them make arrangements for the funeral and we offer counseling 24 hours a day. S.T.E.V.I.E. is my life,” she said.

Danielle Lafayette stood solemnly staring at the pictures of victims of violent crime that were displayed near the fountain in Leimert Park. “My cousin, Jerry Earl Langford, 21, was killed on Christmas Day, 2002,” recalls Lafayette. “We had just enjoyed Christmas dinner together and Jerry left my grandmother’s house with his daughter to see some friends. When we finally left the house, we were driving down Plymouth Avenue. My aunt saw a car parked at the curb and said, ‘That looks like Jerry’s car.’ We pulled over and looked inside. Jerry was inside. He had been shot seven times–once in the face and several times in the torso,” recalls Lafayette. “But his daughter didn’t have a cut on her.” Langford said Jerry’s death shocked the family. “Jerry was familiar with gangs, but he had recently moved to Las Vegas to try to turn his life around,” said Lafayette. “He had just enrolled in community college and was taking courses in business.”

Ipson said he is grateful for the passage of Marsy’s Law. “Victims of murdered children were ignored by the system. But now we’ll be treated in the courts with respect,” he said.

Victim’s rights group participating in the vigil included Justice for Murdered Children, Crime Victims United, Save Our Sons, the Evan Foster Foundation, and S.T.E.V.I.E.