Late Sunday afternoon I hung a shirt bearing the name Moson Hunt. Hunt was two years old when he was shot and killed last year. His shirt is just one of 153 in the Memorial to the Lost displayed on the field next to the Swarthmore train station and Magill Walk. This installation stands as a solemn remembrance for all of the victims of gun violence in Delaware County in the past five years.
This memorial was started by Heeding God’s Call, a local faith-based group dedicated to mobilizing opposition to today’s prevalent gun violence. The Memorial to the Lost has been featured in other community spaces in Delaware County. Heeding God’s Call brought this memorial to Swarthmore’s campus with the help of Dr. Joyce Tompkins, Swarthmore’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, and the new student group Swarthmore Students for Gun Sense Policy.
Over fifteen volunteers helped erect the memorial this past Sunday. 153 pieces of rebar were hammered into the ground. 153 stands were mounted. 153 shirts were inscribed with the names of victims. These t-shirts recall the lives of these 153 victims.
“[The memorial] distracts us from our intellectualizing with its graphic display. Reading the names, the dates, the ages of these victims of gun violence reminds me that each is a person, a life ended, a grieving family, a devastated community. I find it speaks more pointedly than any article or set of statistics,” Dr. Tompkins said.
Indeed, the physical act of establishing this memorial made me confront the epidemic of gun violence in a tangible way. The majority of these deaths occurred just a few miles away in Chester, but here at Swarthmore I rarely have to consider gun violence as more than an abstract problem.
“Gun homicides are very concentrated in a few poor, mostly black and brown neighborhoods, far from where we live. Most of us who live in safe suburbs have no idea,” Fran Stier, Co-Chair of the Delaware County of Heeding God’s Call, said.
“Kids in Chester live in a war zone,” Stier continued. She recounted how one of the members of Heeding God’s Call is a 5th grade teacher. One day, she was writing on the blackboard when she heard a popping sound outside. The children in her class instinctively got down on the ground and urged her to do the same.
“How can kids learn when they’re listening for gunfire? Boys from a young age don’t know whether they’ll grow to adulthood. So many families are traumatized and grieving, and no one seems to care,” Stier said.
Hopefully this memorial can do something to change the lack of concern and awareness, at least for the members of our community. “The memorial focuses on the human cost of this ongoing tragedy,” Dr. Tompkins said, something so often forgotten when looking at the unfathomable statistics of gun violence in this country.
Stier also brought attention to the importance of services and support for those affected by gun violence, which are lacking in the neighborhoods that need them most.
“There are so few services available to the families. They need counseling and mental health services to deal with the trauma of the death, and they very seldom get it. Few of the services, such as those funded by Victims of Crime Act Fund, are located in the city of Chester. They’re mostly in Media, the county seat,” Stier said.
“I think that to end gun violence, we need serious structural change. We cannot have politicians who are informed by the NRA instead of their electorate. We cannot have policies around the world which turn blind eyes to the plights of historically oppressed peoples. I think that, on a more local level, we need people who are willing to stand not just for themselves, but for their brothers and sisters, living and dead,” said Jacob Demree ‘19, a member of Swat Gun Sense.
My response to gun violence has often been to tweet out an article or quote someone else with the hashtag #EndGunViolence. What little I did to help erect this memorial made me see my “hashtag activism” for as paltry as it is. I stared at the names on these shirts, knowing each one is a life cut short, and I was overcome with emotion. As Demree said, we need politicians beholden to the people, not the NRA. America needs to look at every other advanced country and realize how preventable all these deaths are. Heeding God’s Call, Dr. Joyce Tompkins, and Swat Gun Sense deserve a thanks for bringing this memorial and conversation to our campus.
The Memorial to the Lost can be seen through Oct. 2 on Magill Walk going to and from the train station and the Ville. Take time to read some of the names. These individuals deserve to be remembered.
Photos by Sarah Anne Tupchong ’17