A mother fights gun violence

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Janice Walcott is an African American mother with two sons, Ronald and Nathan, and is the grandmother of three. She is a human resource administrator at a major public hospital in the Bronx, an active member of Communications Workers of America, a member of her local community board, and the head of her tenant association in a predominantly African American and Latino housing development.

In her union she is a member of the civil service committee, the Caribbean committee, the equity committee, the latter of which is currently raising money for members of her local who have lost their homes and possessions because of Hurricane Sandy.

Janice gives much of her time trying to make life better for working people and people of color in her community, in her union and in the world.

But life has not been easy for her especially after the loss of her son.

It was 6:00 a.m. on Saturday. Aug. 4, 2008 when Janice received an urgent phone call from her son Ronald who lives in Albany N.Y. "Mommy," he said, "Nathan got shot." Janice jumped out of bed and into the shower thinking she'd better head up to Albany immediately. The phone rang again at 6:25; it was Ronald again and he sounded even sadder.

"Nathan is gone, Mommy." Janice was stunned.

A group of three young guys had followed Nathan into a house party. He was going to help his brother Ronald DJ the party. These three guys must have thought that Nathan had a lot of money because he was a well-known DJ at a popular nightclub in Albany. Their intent was robbery and the young man was shot and killed right in front of his brother.

Nathan had a six-year-old child, who in an instant was left without a father.

Nathan, like his mother, liked to help others. He was the type of young man who counseled youth at an Albany group home.

The Albany police knew Nathan as a prominent DJ and an active community person always willing to help young people. On September 22, they caught the young suspects - ages 22-24 years old - who later confessed. In a plea bargain, the shooter was sentenced to 17 years in prison without the possibility of parole after he turned in the others. They were all were ultimately convicted.

These were young people who did not have jobs and who basically lived on whatever they could beg for, borrow, or steal.

If there had been jobs for them and stricter gun control, Janice said, "My beautiful son Nathan might still be here."

Nathan is memorialized as one of many bricks, which make up a wall in Albany that honors all victims of gun violence in New York's state capitol.

This tragic story is duplicated in city after city all across the country. In economically oppressed, drug invested and socially volatile ghettos and barrios across the nation, easy access to guns means thousands of innocent and misguided youth will be cut down in their prime or will end up in prison for most of their lives. The U.S. has the highest gun ownership, the highest homicide rates, and the highest rates of incarceration of any nation.

A rally is being held to address this issue on Thursday March 21.

Janice says she is looking forward to the Thursday's rally "To End Gun Violence" to be held at the Adam Clayton Powell Harlem State office Building (163 W. 125th St.).

"It will make a change," said Janice, "I see it as something very progressive and it will help make real change in my neighborhood. There is not much out there for our youth. One of the reason I fight so hard is because I see so many young people right in my neighborhood who are victims of the violence and poverty."

When she heard about the rally, Janice decided to do everything she could to get as many people as she could to attend. "I took leaflets to my union meeting and handed them out on my job and in the housing development I live in the Bronx. The people on my job know about my son. Many of them attended his funeral. I want them to come out."

She spoke of a 16-year old that shot and killed another youth in her housing development: "The people where I live are fed up with the violence and they need to be at the rally," she said. "We all have to stand up against violence and for stricter gun control." She continued, "But we also have to stand up and demand that our elected officials do something about the terrible lack of jobs in our communities."

Bloomberg's "stop and frisk" policy, she complained, is not the answer. "Rebuilding our public schools, and decent housing, and keeping guns out and bringing jobs in is what we need, she said.

That the march is taking place during Women's History month is particularly important according to Ms. Wilcott: "Too many mothers, sisters, and daughters have lost their sons, brothers, and fathers, and are crying and suffering. It is time to act."

Thursday's rally was initiated by Local 1199 SEIU and other union and community groups are joining in.

"I will be in Harlem on Thursday, in the name of my son Nathan and all the families who have suffered the loss of loved ones from gun violence," she concluded. "Please join us in demanding that the State Assembly and Senate pass the "New York Safe Act." The legislation calls for stricter limits on the sale of military weapons and high capacity ammunition.

Photo: Janice Walcott   Jarvis Tyner/PW

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