Survivors march for justice

Survivors Speak logo. Photo courtesy

More than 400 people marched, hand in hand, to the Capitol building on Tuesday to bring awareness for survivors of crime.

The march was coordinated by an organization called Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.  It is an organization made up of victims and survivors of crime including domestic violence, sexual assault and gun violence.

“We are a national network of victims that are coming together to share our stories, to heal each other, also, to advocate for changes in the criminal justice system, and also, more services and resources for victims of crime,” said Aswad Thomas, the organization’s managing director.

Thomas is not only the managing director for Crime Survivors, but also, a survivor of crime, himself — he was shot twice in his back in 2009 before heading to Europe to play professional basketball.

“As a result of that shooting, those bullets ended my basketball career,” Thomas said. “And being released from the hospital back into the same community where the incident happened, I was going through a lot of physical pain, and also the psychological effects of being a victim.”

The Alliance for Safety and Justice, which works alongside Crime Survivors, is a “nationwide organization that wants to bring a new vision of public safety for Florida; one in which crime victims and crime survivors are the center of conversations,” according to the State Director, Subhash Kateel.

Kateel said that crime survivors across the state are demanding a few important things from the public safety system.

“They often want what happened to them to never happen to anyone else and they feel like their priority in a public safety and criminal justice system should be in allocating the resources to allow them the space to heal and put their communities back together,” Kateel said.

The Alliance for Safety and Justice also focuses on advancing policies that benefit those who are behind bars, so that when they are released, they are better than before they were incarcerated.

“That means, incentivizing them doing the right thing, learning the right skills, taking responsibility for their actions, and coming back to society better, and being more able to contribute, and break the cycle of crime and violence,” Kateel said.

Doris Strong, a crime survivor, joined the organization in 2013 after her father was murdered. She mentioned that the march was a great way to connect with people who have had a similar experience.

“It [the march] has impacted me tremendously; I can’t describe it, because it’s always wonderful when you can get with 400 crime survivors, and when you share [stories], they can feel you, they can feel what you’ve been through or what you’re going through,” Strong said.

Crime Survivors plans to grow as a movement and it hopes to grow from 40,000 members to one million in the coming years.

“I see us building, growing, and doing what we need to do in order to build a better and safer Florida,” Kateel said.

Crime Survivors’ motto is, “When survivors speak, change happens!”