CAMDEN - Two U.S. congressmen, Camden’s mayor and the head of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP were in Camden Monday afternoon for a forum on gun violence.
But there were two people in the Odessa Paulk-Jones Community Center who are living the heartbreaking reality of guns: the parents of Gabrielle Hill-Carter, the 8-year-old girl who was shot while riding her bicycle Aug. 24 and died of her wounds two days later.No one has been charged with her murder.
Meresa Carter, wearing a T-shirt with her daughter’s smiling face on the front and “#TEAMGABBY” on the back, said she appreciated the condolences of the dignitaries, including U.S. Reps. John Lewis, D-Georgia, and Donald Norcross, D-N.J.
But she wasn’t convinced their attention would last.
“I feel like this is for now, for the meantime. Like all this is going to go away,” she said.
Lewis led a sit-in on the floor of Congress to support gun control measures in June. He was joined by Norcross and some fellow Democrats as he spoke passionately at the discussion on gun violence in a city that has seen 32 homicides so far this year – all but one committed with guns.
Nodding to the Camden County Police officers standing guard in the back of the room, Lewis made sure to thank them for their service.
“I know your job is not easy,” the civil rights icon said. “Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for keeping the faith.
Lewis, who met privately with Gabby’s mother and father, Will Phillips, said in an interview with the Courier-Post before the forum that he “hugged them and told them I was sorry.”
“It really makes me sick; it breaks my heart,” he said at the forum. “In my own city of Atlanta, I’ve gone to too many funerals. I’ve seen too many broken hearts …
“Young children, young babies, mothers and fathers. We have to do something. We have to act now to stop gun violence.”
His voice rose.
“We’re losing too many children.”
Echoing the message of love and nonviolence put forth by his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Lewis talked about how “hate is too heavy a burden to bear,” and told the room full of city and state officials, clergy and residents, “We have to teach our children the way of peace.”
Recalling his days as a seminarian and a young man in rural Alabama, Lewis said, “We were taught in every human bosom there is a spark of the divine. You have to respect it. You do not have a right to destroy that spark, that human being. It’s an affront, an insult to God Almighty.”
But on the streets of Gabby’s neighborhood and in cities all over the country, “there is too much violence and too many guns,” he added.
Speaking afterward, Carter agreed: “A lot of things that were said needed to be said. And I’m glad I was here to hear it.”
Still, the young mother said, “My daughter was known and loved by a lot of people. They’re up here talking about Martin Luther King, but my daughter is not going down in history.” She was worried, she said, that beyond the political rhetoric, Gabby “won’t be spoken of again.”
“I appreciate their condolences,” she said. “I know they respect my loss. But it’s still a loss.”