Chevie Green held a framed photo of her cousin tightly as she spoke Monday, her voice emotional as Jacksonville kicked off a local observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Facing victims and their advocates — and backed by 25 Jacksonville police officers — Green tearfully remembered 22-year-old cousin Jerry Brown, who was gunned down Jan. 28, 2016, as he sat in his car on Henrietta Street in Northwest Jacksonville.
Brown was on his phone when a single shot hit him in the neck in what police believe was a drive-by shooting. Green described him as a church choir singer who cared for his mother as she dealt with cancer — someone who “welcomed, loved and helped with support” for everyone he met. His slaying remains unsolved.
Violent deaths like Jerry Brown’s change victims’ families forever, Green said.
“All the programs that we have out here, that’s great and I appreciate the grief counseling; I appreciate the support,” Green said, tissues clenched in her right hand. “But what I would appreciate more is boots on the ground. We have to let these young people know that they have a way out. They have a future, and it isn’t in a gun. It isn’t in the feuds on YouTube, rap and fighting.”
Honoring victims of crimes and guiding them through their grief and the criminal justice system is what this week’s observance is all about, said Sheila Spivey, vice chair of the Mayor’s Victim Assistance Advisory Council. She gave Green those tissues.
“It provides an opportunity for the city of Jacksonville to amplify the voices of survivors and victims of crime. We see you; we hear you; we hear the survivors and victims of crime,” Spivey said. “We are here to support them, and this is important because it provides an opportunity for us, as a community, to come together and wrap our arms around victims and survivors and let them know that there is support available.”
Since its national founding in 1981, Crime Victims’ Rights Week has challenged people to confront and remove barriers to achieving justice for all victims of crime, according to the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime. It also celebrates the accomplishments of the victims’ rights movement.
This year’s theme is “Survivor Voices: Elevate. Engage. Effect Change,” which calls upon communities to amplify the voices of survivors and commit to creating an environment where they have confidence they will be heard, believed and supported, federal officials said.
Jacksonville’s police officers are being trained to help survivors, including a Victims and Witness Services unit with seven advocates who help victims with trauma and crisis intervention, said Mark Romano, director of the Sheriff’s Office’s investigations division.
Last year, that unit helped victims at 28 separate crime scenes or follow-up home visits, with 20 referrals for grief counseling for the families of homicide victims. The unit has been providing financial assistance for transportation and grief counseling since 2020, Romano said.
“Police officers and victims advocates work together in our agency to champion survivor voices,” Romano said. “Our agency is committed to easing the cost of grief counseling because we recognize that homicide survivors’ healing will not happen in interview rooms or police stations, and it’s not going to happen in courtrooms”
When the families of homicide or drug overdose victims navigate the criminal justice system, State Attorney’s Office victim specialists like Makenzie Rhoden say they are there to answer questions like “Why did this happen to me or my loved one?”
“I hear their stories. Each one is unique in detail, but all too heartbreaking in the outcome ,” said Rhoden, who works with more than 100 families of victims right now. “There is no answer to that question. Our goal here at the State Attorney’s Office is to help guide these families through a system that is often foreign and difficult to navigate and ultimately achieve justice.”
Nationally, a candlelight vigil to pay tribute to victims of crime and the counselors and volunteers who advocate on their behalf will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Locally, multiple events are planned this week to honor Crime Victim Rights Week:
- 5:30 p.m. Monday: The Justice Coalition will host its annual Tossing of the Roses ceremony on the Northbank Riverwalk behind The Haskell Building at 111 Riverside Ave., where survivors and victims can toss a rose into the St. Johns River in memory of a lost loved one.
- 10 a.m. Tuesday: The Mayor’s Victims Assistance Advisory Council will hold its annual Resource Fair at the Main Library at 303 N. Laura St.
- Noon Tuesday: The Mayor’s Victims Assistance Advisory Council will have its annual Victim Rights awards and scholarship luncheon at the Main Library at 303 N. Laura St. Tickets are $45 per person. Those who have demonstrated outstanding achievements on behalf of crime victims and victims’ rights will be recognized. For reservations, call (904) 255-3321.
- 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday: A Zoom seminar on Navigating the Criminal Justice System will be held by the University of North Florida’s Women’s Center. The Zoom meeting ID is: 913 6721 2749.