For the past week, members of the Swarthmore community walking past lower Parrish Lawn have been presented with the reality of gun violence in neighboring communities in the form of 153 t-shirts – each one representing a life cut tragically short.
The t-shirts are part of the Memorial to the Lost, a traveling installation that honors the victims of gun violence. Each of the 153 t-shirts bears the name, date of death, and age at death of a victim of gun violence in Delaware County, Pa. – the home county of the College – between 2011 and 2015, a large number of whom were from Chester, Pa. Students, faculty, staff, and community members gathered on lower Parrish Lawn on September 18 to assemble the memorial, which will be up through October 2.
The Memorial to the Lost is sponsored by the Chester and Delaware County chapter of Heeding God’s Call, a faith-based group dedicated to the prevention of gun violence. The memorial was brought to Swarthmore by Students for Gun Sense Policy, a student group aimed at promoting tighter regulation of firearms, and Joyce Tompkins, the College's director of religious and spiritual life.
“The number of people and kids who are killed is wrong. I look back, and it’s unfathomable to me,” says Jacob Demree '19, of Medford, N.J., who founded the student group. “It’s important that we - on campus and in the community - really act together to end gun violence.
“We shouldn’t be hearing about Chester only when there’s a gun fired," he adds. "We should be able to focus on the good in communities instead of having to face this every time the news is on. It’s important that we learn how we can move forward and do what we can to end this.”
At the assembly, Fran Stier, a co-chair of Heeding God’s Call, presented some statistics about gun violence in the area, stating that people living in Chester in 2015 had a homicide rate of 67 per 100,000, compared to about two per 100,000 for Delaware County residents outside Chester.
“Each of these deaths tore apart a family, leaving parents, siblings, children grieving," says Stier. "Unsolved deaths – and far, far too many are unsolved – destroy a family’s belief in government’s power to bring justice."
Stier urged listeners to practice gun safety and to work to pass legislation that would close gun-purchasing loopholes, before Tompkins ended the event with a call to action.
“This is a hard thing and I know we feel many emotions, I know I do, putting up these shirts and reading these names,” she says. “I hope that we can all be people who carry the grief, the anger, the frustration, all of those feelings, and channel them in a positive way toward action and toward change and toward hope for people and an end to violence.”