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Families of Springfield murder victims demand support, funding for public safety

Juanita Batchelor and Francena Brown have both lost children to gun violence. Now the two Springfield, Massachusetts, residents are on a mission to reduce crime in the city and provide support for families who have been victims of violent crimes.

"It's like the violence is just getting worse. And there's nothing being said. There's no outrage," said Batchelor, who lost her son Darrell Lee Jenkins Jr. in 2014, her niece Tamara Clark in 2020, and her son-in-law Reginald Dessasure in 2021, all to gun deaths.

Batchelor joined Brown and representatives from several mental health and community organizations on the steps of City Hall Monday to demand better support services and funding for public safety from the city. The gathering comes after three shooting deaths in June. It was organized by four city councilors, including mayoral candidate Justin Hurst, Tracye Whitfield, Victor Davila and Zaida Govan.

"We are sick and tired of the violence, " said Brown, who has lost two sons to gun deaths — one in 2006 in Springfield and the other in 2022 in Delaware. "Let's try to find a solution. Let's try to find some programs. Let's try to find some services for them so they don't have to be out here shooting someone. They need jobs. They need programs. There's nothing for these kids out here to do."

While critical of Mayor Domenic J. Sarno's approach to public safety, many of the speakers pointed out two issues that he has also said are major causes of violence in the city — too much leniency in the court system and a lack of cooperation from witnesses and victims.

"My sympathy, thoughts and prayers go out to the affected families, no matter what, a loss of life is always tragic,” Sarno said in a prepared statement, referring to the most recent homicides in the city. “We have suspects, some of which are tied to previous cases. Once again, our public safety officials are not receiving cooperation from victims and witnesses. The individuals involved in these crimes, by not being held/incarcerated, not only reoffend but become retaliation targets themselves."

Hurst said earlier this month he called for an action plan from the Sarno administration, detailing what immediate and long-term solutions officials have to reduce violent crimes in the city.

"That call for action fell on deaf ears... It's not just me who wants to see a plan. There are individuals in the city of Springfield who have been impacted by gun violence, who also want to see solutions. And the longer we wait, the more individuals that are perishing. And we owe it to our communities to speak out and to see what it is that we can do as it relates to gun violence," Hurst said.

Sarno said he will be holding a public safety meeting with police and community leaders sometime this week.

Issac Byrd, a local pastor and member of Progressive Community Church of Jesus Christ in Springfield, said it's not time to place blame on any one person.

"We're not here to point fingers. We're here for solutions [so] we can move forward with a plan on how to combat the violence that's going on in the city," he said.

Byrd said more outreach has to be done so that young people understand the significance of their choices before they commit a life-altering act.

"They have to understand life is important, that life has value. Whether you're the one who kills somebody or the person who's been killed, your life holds value. And it's not fair to the families who have to suffer — whether you're the one who pulled the trigger or whether you're the one who has been killed."

For grieving mothers Juanita Batchelor and Francena Brown, helping families cope with loss has become their life's work.

Brown founded and is executive director of Families Against Violence, a Springfield-based nonprofit that provides emotional support to families who have experienced a loss due to violent crime.

Batchelor founded the Darrell Lee Jenkins Resource Center, also based in Springfield, to support families who have lost someone to gun violence. The organization helps families access resources to reduce violence and crime in their neighborhoods.

Batchelor has lived in Springfield most of her life and said she still has not lost hope in the city.

"I've lived in this city 44 years. I definitely can't leave now, my son is here forever," she said.

Elizabeth Román edits daily news stories at NEPM as managing editor. She is working to expand the diversity of sources in our news coverage and is also exploring ways to create more Spanish-language news content.
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