ELIZABETH, NJ – Two mothers of sons shot to death in Elizabeth helped launch Gun Violence Awareness Month, June 1, at a rally on the corner of Madison Avenue and Lafayette Street, near where one of the victims, Michael Eargle, was killed in April.
The women, Judy Best whose 23-year-old son Jahid Chapman was killed October 19, 2014, and Sharon Smith, mother of 28-year-old Michael Eargle, were there to call attention to the proliferation of gun violence. A suspect, 20-year-old Quazir Reddick of Edison, has been arrested in connection with Eargle’s murder, but Chapman’s killing is still unsolved.
“It is a struggle for us,” said Best. “It is a struggle every day to get up knowing that someone hurt my child. Every time I hear of someone getting shot, it takes me back to when I lost my own child.”
Both women focused, not on their own loss, but on preventing such losses in the future.
“It is not about the parents,” said Best. “It is about the kids. We are fighting a war.”
Added Smith, “Put the guns down. Young kids, they don’t know. They’re just picking up guns.”
The rally, scheduled one day before the national kick-off, was organized by Salaam Ismial, a well-known advocate for gun control, who has appeared before the Board of Education to propose gun control education in the schools. “The object of the day is to educate folks and to engage the community, to get involved in becoming aware of gun violence,” he said.
Ismial backed up his message with facts underscoring the need for greater gun control. “On average, 93 people died every day from gunshot wounds in this country,” he said. “There are 300-plus legal guns in America. We have crises. In this country, we have more gun violence than anywhere in the world.”
The rally was a part of a nationwide effort to bring attention and a solution to gun violence. Gun Violence Awareness Month was begun to commemorate the shooting death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago in January 2013. She was an honor student who became a symbol of innocent victims in Chicago.
Each participant at the rally received an orange ribbon. It is the color associated with Gun Violence Awareness Month because it worn by hunters to keep them safe.
The orange ribbons were a symbol and a call to action, according to Ismial, “I met Hadiya’s mom and dad, Cleopatra and Nathaniel, and understand their pain because I, too, lost loved ones to gun violence.”