Sammy Westfall

“We want somebody to listen, somebody to hear. It’s time,” said Donna Santiago over the beat of Fusion Drill Team’s drums.

Santiago is one of hundreds of New Haveners who participated on Saturday in a peace marching rally for homicide victims in New Haven. With finger peace signs and posters up, the group demanded an end to violence in the city.

“There are so many families in New Haven who over the past 20 years have lost young people particularly to gun violence,” Mayor Toni Harp said at the event. “And even though we have reduced the amount of violent deaths, if we have one, we have too many.”

Harp helped lead the rally, walking alongside directors of the leadership from Bereavement Care Network leadership, Inc — a nonprofit that provides donations where needed to families affected by homicide. Harp said she was there to support the families that have lost loved ones through violence in their city and added that she is committed to curbing violence.

The sixth annual march started at 11 a.m. on Charles Street in Dixwell and ended past 1 p.m. at Goffe Street Park. The New Haven Police Department, who have been annually working with organizers, assisted with traffic control.

Santiago marched in honor of her nephew and son-in-law who were both murdered in the city.

“The whole world is messed up, but we need some peace somewhere,” she said.

The march ended at Goffe Street Park, where a celebratory picnic was held. At the park, marchers also released balloons for the loved ones who had been killed. Speakers shared a few words at the picnic, including officer Tommy Norman from the Arkansas North Little Rock Police Department, who gained national and international attention for his methods of community policing.

Earlier in the week, Norman met with NHPD Chief Anthony Campbell and Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins. Both New Haven and Norman practice community policing, with Norman using his viral Instagram account — followed by 1 million people — to change the way people view policing.

Another marcher, Valerie Barber, marched in honor her son, who was killed in 2011. She told the News that this is the way that she gives back to her community. She walked alongside her grandchildren, who were her son’s nephews and nieces. She said that the march was inclusive — anyone who has been affected by homicide, gun violence or any kind of violence is welcome to participate in the efforts.

Bereavement Care Network, Inc was established by Nakia Dawson-Douglas in 2013 after one of her close friends became a homicide victim, Dawson-Douglas said.

She said that she saw what his family went through, and saw that there was greater help needed. The organization meets with the family after the homicide occurs to see where they are in need of a donation, said Dawson-Douglas, who serves as the Network’s founder and president.

The protest drew community members ranging from babies in strollers to the elderly, with many attendees holding up signs in honor of those who died. A step team and drill teams, which comprised marching bands of schoolchildren playing the drums and girls waving orange cheer pompoms to the rhythm of the drums held up the back of the procession.

The Bereavement Care Network was founded in 2013.

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu

Correction: The article has been updated to better reflect the mission of the Bereavement Care Network, Inc; where a previous version sourced an organization member, the current version uses information provided by the founder and president of the Bereavement Care Network, Inc.