Victoria Greene’s presentation on EMIR Healing Center, 1/14/2018

About a dozen people came to the Green Street Friends Meetinghouse on 1/14/2018 to hear Victoria Greene talk about her work with the EMIR Healing Center.

She founded the organization in memory of her son, Emir, who was murdered on March 26, 1997. EMIR stands for “Every Murder Is Real.” They provide support and counseling to families of murder victims in Philadelphia and even beyond.

The Problem
There were 317 homicides in Philadelphia in 2017, the first time since 2012 that the number has been over 300. Many of the murder victims are young black men. Police Commissioner Richard Ross said the increase is because of opioids, and the fact that the Police Department is down by 400 officers. There should be another 300 new officers by fall 2018 when the next class graduates from the academy. There are also gangs in many areas of Philadelphia.

Support Groups
EMIR Healing Center runs support groups for families of murder victims. Friends from Green Street Meeting provide meals so that the families can eat together from 6 to 6:30 pm. The meals enable people to get there without having to worry about eating first. Having a meal together helps people socialize and bond, which is a very important step in the healing process. There are about 25 people per group. Over the course of a year, Green Street Friends are providing something like 700 meals a year!

Friends from Green Street who want to help can sign up to cook a meal, bring takeout food, or just donate money toward buying food for the evening. If you do cook, please don’t use pork or nuts.

The process starts when, each week, EMIR gets a fax from the Police Department with the list of homicides from the past week and contact information for the next of kin. EMIR follows up with a letter and later a phone call to invite them to participate in the support groups. Some people are referred by other individuals or organizations in the community.

In the groups, EMIR teaches families about trauma: how to recognize it; and how to cope with it in healthy ways. Frequently people who do not recognize trauma end up coping in unhealthy ways. People can come back again, too. Often the second year is hardest for people – the second Christmas or birthday – when they realize it’s real, the person is never coming back.

The first two meetings of the groups are open to drop-ins, but after that, no drop-ins are allowed. The group needs a chance to bond together, and that rule helps them do that. Each time there are separate groups for women, men, and teens and kids.

Intervening to Prevent More Violence
EMIR has sometimes gone to individuals to prevent them from retaliating with violence after a murder. Recently a family asked them to intervene in a gang dispute in South Philly. They are looking at being mediators.

At one point EMIR was part of a collaborative that applied for grant funding. It would have included money to pay “interruptors” who are already on street corners doing this work, for no pay. It did not work out for EMIR in the end. There is a still a serious need for interruptors.

Public Policy
EMIR also has growing interest in public policy. First, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) the Victims Compensation Fund. The source of money for this fund is fines paid by convicted criminals, not taxes. However, the VOCA law excludes families of people accused of “causing their own demise.” If a police report says the victim was committing a crime when killed, then the family cannot get money from the fund. There is no process for judging whether or not the police report is correct; and even if it were, why should the families of the victim suffer?

EMIR has worked with attorney Angus Love on some cases. In one of them, a father was upset that his son was accused of dealing drugs, when he didn’t, and there was no evidence he did. They were able to get the office in Harrisburg to overturn the initial decision. There may be a lawsuit in the courts or a change in the law in the legislature.

In September, EMIR held a forum on gun violence. Families of victims had the chance to be heard by public officials, including Congressperson Dwight Evans, Commissioner Ross, several City Council members, and some state legislators. EMIR has formed committees around illegal guns, education, and housing.

Families who get involved with activism often find some healing. It’s therapeutic because they may find some help for other people and also work for the common good. This can especially be helpful when the perpetrator of the murder isn’t caught. Less than half of murder cases in Philadelphia are getting solved now, so there is a lack of closure for many families.

Victoria’s Spiritual Journey
Finally, Victoria spoke about her spiritual journey through this work. Soon after she started EMIR, she organized conferences two years apart. She had no experience doing this. Yet when she asked, people said yes. And both were successful. She felt God was guiding her.

People ask Victoria how she can cope with the stories, so similar to what she went through with her son, Emir.  She said, “When I hear a family’s story, I am with them. I’m holding their hands, listening to them. That’s God.”

She sees how fragile life is. When she felt suicidal after Emir’s death, she heard his voice saying to her, “What? It’s bad enough I got killed, now you’re going to go?” And she held on. Now she won’t hold grudges. If someone is good, she’ll tell them. She added, “Because you never know if you’ll see them again. Be authentic. Don’t take people for granted.”

That’s why Quakerism attracted her. She heard about Spirit-led activism. She had never heard that anywhere before finding Quakers. Her experience is definitely of Spirit-led activism.

·         Join Green Street’s brand-new Quaker Social Change Ministry group! We hope to have our first meeting to get organized on Feb. 19 (this is still TENTATIVE).
·         Work with EMIR on amending VOCA
·         Join one of the committees formed after the September forum (education; stopping illegal guns; or housing)
·         Volunteer to help with the annual fundraising concert, usually late in the year
·         Donate! If you do, you’ll multiply the impact of our meeting’s annual gift to EMIR
·         Watch Victoria’s QuakerSpeak video and share it with people you know: http://quakerspeak.com/every-murder-real/