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Tracy Brown has turned her pain into passion.
She says she lost her son to horrifying violence in Naranja 11 years ago. Three attackers chased him down, shot him in the back, then stood over him and shot him in the head.
Police are still looking for the killers.
So, Brown knows something about what gun violence does to families. And she has taken that knowledge and put it to use.
Brown, 59, started a neighborhood group in 2014 called Families Affected by Violence.
She moved to Cutler Bay and now runs meetings at Town Hall where mothers can bond, grieve over the deaths of their family members, and discuss ways to tackle gun violence. She’s also an activist for strict gun control in Florida and attends meetings across the state.
“New mothers [affected by gun violence] are out and needing support,” she said. “Although we haven’t gotten justice yet, we still want to help with the support of other grieving mothers.”
Now she is turning to lawmakers to address gun violence at the local and federal level.
“That’s why I’m here,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, who met Liberty City residents and local officials on July 6 in front of the Liberty Square Community Center to talk about gun violence in Liberty City and other South Florida neighborhoods.
In addition to Brown, Nelson met with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmondson, and state Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami. The senator walked through the public housing complex during his visit and chatted with city leaders. Nelson is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate, challenged by Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
More in-depth exchanges came about an hour later during a roundtable discussion at the Sandrell Rivers Theater a few blocks from the housing complex.
Nelson played up his push for universal, comprehensive background checks for gun purchases at stores and gun shows. And he also said he’s going to “continue to try to abolish those long clips with many rounds,” but that it’s a “long, uphill climb” to get votes in the Senate.
There is lots of work to do, inside the halls of power and out on the streets.
Young people often go to pawn shops to get guns, and sellers don’t care if they have fake IDs, said Miami Neighborhood Enhancement Team Director vonCarol Kinchens.
Tawana Akins, a fourth-grade teacher at Holmes Elementary School in Liberty City and co-owner of the Chill and Grill Restaurant, said people in the community need to take responsibility on the issue. When they know relatives are stashing guns at home, they need to speak up, she said.
“We must face the fact that these guns are underground,” Akins said. “We need something different.”
Hardemon said the gun issue comes down to people having jobs so they don’t resort to using guns.
“The head of households are not getting the proper services to support their families,” he said.
Nelson also said it’s vital for officers to get to know a neighborhood through community policing programs.
Gun violence takes a toll on students in school. When gunfire takes lives in the community, kids aren’t able to focus in class, said Miami-Dade School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall .
“If we don’t educate, we’re gonna be here talking about this for the next 40 years,” Bendross-Mindingall said. “This is not new for any of us.”
Nelson said gun violence isn’t a simple or single issue. Mental health, jobs and education all factor into the problem.
“You can’t solve a community’s problems,” he said, “unless you go at it comprehensively.”