It’s wonderful to be in beautiful Charleston [South Carolina].
I want to thank Dr. Saladin and Dr. Kilpatrick for hosting us today, and for leading an exceptional institution that has done so much to advance our understanding of trauma and victimization.
I want to welcome Mayor Tecklenburg to our gathering – we are so pleased that you are able to join us. Thank you for hosting us in your lovely city.
My thanks, as well, go to the entire staff of the [National] Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center and all of their partners for the work they do, every day, on behalf of crime victims in our country.
I want to acknowledge the OVC staff who are here and are the magic behind the grant funding: Jasmine D’Addario-Fobian, Eugenia Pedley, and Emily Bauernfeind.
This morning a group of us visited historic Mother Emanuel AME Church – and I am so grateful to Pastor Manning, who was kind enough to lead the tour of that beautiful and hallowed building.
I’m sure I speak for my colleagues in that I feel both deep humility and a profound sense of responsibility for the memories of those killed there more than 8 years ago.
In a nation that has become far too familiar with the taking of lives, the murder of the Emanuel Nine gathered our resolve to face the hate that fuels so much of the violence in our country.
We have an obligation, all of us, to root out hate and bias where it exists, to keep weapons out of the hands of those bent on committing harm, and to be there to support the survivors and victims’ families who bear the scars.
The task before us is as urgent as it was 8 years ago, if not more so.
FBI data indicates that hate crimes are on the rise, with almost two-thirds of the more than 12,000 victims, targeted because of their race or ethnicity.
At the same time, daily gun violence in our communities continues to claim lives at alarming rates. Firearms were responsible for more than 48,000 deaths in 2022, according to the CDC, almost 20,000 of them homicides.
And while the lack of a standard definition makes it difficult to determine whether mass violence is more prevalent now than in years past, the lockdown drills and active shooter exercises in schools and offices across the country drive home the point that the threat today is real and constant.
We also know that survivors of and witnesses to mass violence face extraordinary challenges. They are left deeply shaken, and many contend with feelings of guilt, a compromised sense of safety, and pronounced symptoms of depression and PTSD.
These reactions extend into the community, as well. Research from MVVRC – research that you conducted – found that people in the communities of Parkland, El Paso, and Pittsburgh suffered rates of PTSD four to five and a half times higher than the average person following mass shootings in those cities.
These tragedies have unfolded on Tribal lands, local schools, places of worship, dance halls, grocery stores, and city centers. Violence has been targeted at racial and ethnic groups, the LGBTQIA+ community, and religious groups. Throughout our Country’s history we have seen demonstrable proof of the harm caused when hate and violence intersect.
We have also witnessed the healing and repair that eventually come.
And how is that healing possible after something so life-shattering?
It’s often due to the courageous responders, advocates, and navigators who put their own lives aside and literally run toward the danger. They are there in the immediate aftermath of these crimes and they are there through the various phases of healing and recovery.
It reminds me of a word in Hebrew, Hineni (hee-nay-nee). It means, “Here I am; I’m prepared, send me.”
But we know that no one person can do it alone.
Fortunately, we have partners like those individuals at the National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center.
My office, OVC, provided funding for the Center in 2017 because it was clear to us that we needed to look at mass violence from a broader perspective, to review these incidents in the context of other incidents, to forge new research and obtain a clearer understanding of how these tragedies happen and how they impact and influence our communities over time.
By funding a national center, we wanted to create evidence-based resources, tools, and strategies that were culturally appropriate, and trauma-informed and included the wisdom of those with lived experiences. And importantly, a Center would need to include state-of-the-art technology to expand access and create options for survivors.
NMVVRC has done all of this.
They have held national town halls discussing readiness, response, and resiliency resources; they developed the Transcend App to assist survivors of mass violence during recovery; they created the Resiliency Center Directors Forum; they established resource pages on their website; and created a court guide for survivors.
And NMVVRC is amassing a body of research on the scope, nature, and mental health impact of exposure to mass violence. Understanding how mass violence effects survivors, first responders, victim service providers, and communities writ large, gives us the opportunity to better prepare and respond when tragedy strikes.
Ben Franklin said “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.”
I know that community leaders across this Country are better prepared because of the incredible team assembled at NMVVRC.
And because of their efforts, I can say not just Hineni (hee-nay-nee), but Hinenu (hee-nay-nu):
Here We Are; We’re prepared, send us.
With that, it is my great pleasure to introduce my boss and colleague; someone who champions the work of OVC and works very hard to ensure that all victims and survivors are guaranteed rights, access, and equity within the criminal justice system.
Please welcome Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon.