The ordered rows of perfectly white flowers in their little vases looked so pretty, for something so painful.
The mall was mostly empty. Every few minutes, a group of tourists, usually families, would come by, speaking in different languages and taking pictures of the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall. They would pose, smiling, possibly oblivious to the ceremony of those rows of white flowers.
People zigzagged through the mall, playing with their phones or walking dogs. Perhaps it was because it was a temporary memorial that no one knew to visit. Perhaps it was different when former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was there and community leaders spoke. Giffords became a gun control advocate after she was shot in 2011.
Giffords partnered with EMIR (Every Murder is Real) Healing Center, Ceasefire PA, and South Pittsburgh Coalition for Peace on the memorial installation, which is an offshoot of the national Gun Violence Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Spaced out on the lawn were signs. “GUN VIOLENCE IS PREVENTABLE.” It told us that each vase represents one of the 1,700 Pennsylvanians who lost their lives to gun violence last year. Would people have paused differently if it read 499 Philadelphians? Or the many people from Germantown?
Chantay Love, who cofounded EMIR Healing Center in 1997 with her mother Victoria Greene after her 20 year-old brother Emir was killed to support families who lost loved ones to gun violence, spoke alongside Giffords. The Germantown resident emphasized the need for sustainable solutions to gun violence, including trauma-informed policy considerations, partnerships, funding and resources for community and hospital-based violence prevention, and intervention programs. Love was joined by her sister Roz Pichardo, who held framed pictures of family members lost to homicide and suicide.
One man seemed to come for the memorial. He walked through carefully, bending down to readjust the vases that tipped over. I watched him quietly. He didn’t stay.