What started as a call to action Saturday became a march of grief on the streets of Tacoma’s East Side.
The march, which attracted more than 300 people, was organized by Candace Wesley as a response to the recent spate of fatal gang-related shootings of Tacoma youth.
Wesley told the crowd that it’s not just the job of police and other public agencies to keep children safe.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that our children are safe and that they can go play at any playground without the fear of violence,” Wesley said.
There were men present at the march who identified as former gang members and who wanted to right past wrongs and set good examples, Wesley said.
“We are so proud of the men who you’ve become,” Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards told them.
The march began on Portland Avenue at East 40th Street. Tacoma city council members were there. So were Puyallup Tribal Chairman David Bean, Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell and newly elected House Speaker Laurie Jinkins.
There were mothers and fathers with their children, and the mothers and fathers of murdered children.
Marchers held signs. Some read “Put the guns down” and “Enough Violence.” The crowd chanted “Cease Fire” at several points. Many wore T-shirts that read “Tacoma Cease Fire.”
The march ended in a church parking lot at South 44th Street.
Along the way, the tears began flowing.
“There cannot be another funeral,” Wesley said. “I’m tired of crying.”
Woodards hugged and cried with a sobbing mother whose sons, the woman later said, are being terrorized by gang members.
“We are in fear for our lives,” the 46-year-old mother told The News Tribune. “I don’t know what to do.” She did not want her name used for fear of retaliation.
The woman lives near the site of a recent fatal shooting.
“The violence has shattered my family,” she said. “I can’t let my boys die for no reason.”
Another mother who has already lost her son was there as well.
Stephani Robinson’s son, Davontre Robinson-Harris, 23, was fatally shot Sept. 1 on East McKinley Avenue.
“I used to be one of those kids that was a problem child,” Robinson said. “I lived the life that a lot of these young folks have. But I decided I needed to make a change and stop doing what I used to do.”
She thought she had raised her son beyond the grip of gangs. “I never seen my son gang-banging,” she said.
She had no idea he was on the same path she had been on. She didn’t see the end coming.
“Not his life ending like this,” Robinson said.
Hilltop resident Peter Chase had a message for Ramsdell, who stood a few feet away from him.
“We were those young kids a long time ago,” Chase told the police chief. “Please be patient with our youth. Give them a chance.”
Wesley told the crowd they can’t look to others for blame.
“We have failed our youth and young adult population,” Wesley said. “What we are witnessing is the harvest of the seeds we have planted.”