At Capitol rally, crime survivors want to have their voices heard

Produced By: - June 13, 2023 12:43 pm

In 2009, Aswad Thomas had his professional basketball career cut short by a gunman’s bullets.

He survived. But as he recovered, the Hartford, Conn., native found that he couldn’t get the support and care he needed to rebound from his injuries. More than a decade later, he’s traded the basketball court for the halls of power to advocate for his fellow survivors. 

“We are here today at our Survivors Speak Advocacy Day, calling for more trauma recovery centers,’ Thomas, the national director Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, told the Capital-Star. “We’re calling for more housing and employment protections for survivors. We’re also calling for folks who have past convictions to be able to get opportunities to return back to work.”

Dozens of black t-shirt clad survivors rallied on the Capitol steps on Tuesday morning to share their stories. They also were set to meet with state legislators to press the case for their cause, an organizer said.

Among them was Pearl Wise, of York County, whose son, Chad Merrill, was shot and killed in 2018, leaving behind a 5-month-old son. He was just 25 years old. 

“I’m here calling for changes in victims’ rights,” Wise, who is raising her now 5-year-old grandson with her husband, after the child’s mother died in 2020. “We’re looking for rehabilitation for people in jail, so that they have a better time, and do not recommit to the cycle of violence.”

The organization boasts more than 180,000 members nationwide, and 8,000 in Pennsylvania, Thomas told the Capital-Star. And as lawmakers move into the final days of debate over the 2023-24 state budget, they’re looking to have their voices heard.

“We need to keep our focus on healing and redemption to improve public safety in Pennsylvania,” Yolanda Jennings, a crime survivor and  the groups’ Philadelphia chapter coordinator said in a statement on Tuesday. “By expanding assistance for violence victims and giving priority to rehabilitation, we can disrupt cycles of crime and make Pennsylvania safer for all.”

In 2020, the Legislature passed a law that was supposed to remove barriers to employment for former offenders, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in February. Advocates have said the law is not working the way it was intended, and have pressed for changes, the newspaper reported.

“We have champions on both sides of the aisle to ensure survivors have their voices heard,” the group’s Pennsylvania manager, Alex Balouris, told the Capital-Star on Tuesday. 

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.


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