She lost her grandson to gun violence

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There is no silence like the silence of a house where a child once was.

Marge LaRue should know.

Last fall, her grandson, Nicolas Elizalde, was shot and killed outside Roxborough High School in Philadelphia. It came just after the end of a junior varsity football scrimmage between players from Roxborough, Northeast Boys High School, and Boys Latin Charter School.

Nick was just 14 years old. Four other teens, aged 14 to 17, were wounded.

Now, as Mother’s Day and spring holidays approach, he won’t be there. And the pain of his absence is almost too much to bear, LaRue said.

“It’s so hard to live with the silence,” she said, adding later, “People don’t understand the pain until they’re living with the pain.”

But in that silence, there are voices that speak with power, that speak so loudly they might even finally change the conversation.

They belong to Marge LaRue, whose voice was wracked with pain even as the hope for something different shone from her eyes.

They belong to Chantay Love, who’s working for a world where where mothers don’t mourn their “lost baby,” they cry “tears of joy” at their weddings. She waits for one where fathers don’t silently scream for fallen sons, they celebrate their grandson’s high school graduations.

“Every neighborhood belongs to all of us,” Love, a co-founder of the EMIR (Every Murder is Real) Healing Center, a community advocacy group, said, stressing gun violence’s disregard for geographic, ethnic, racial or partisan boundaries.

They belong to Dawan Williams, who knows that, while laws help, for kids to live long enough to reach those milestone events, they need structure, discipline, and parents who are an active presence in their lives.

“We have to step up collectively,” Williams, the vice president of restorative justice for the community group the NoMo Foundation, said, adding “Philadelphia, this is an all-hands-on-deck situation.”

LaRue, Love, and Williams lent their voices to a news conference last week, held by Democratic members of Philadelphia’s state House delegation, who said they’re more hopeful for change this year than they have been for a while.

This year, after a more than a decade of Republican control, Democrats have a majority — however slender — in the state House.

And in Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, they said they have an ally who can use his bully pulpit to finally usher a series of long-sought reforms that include expanded background checks and a mandate for gun owners to report lost and stolen weapons to law enforcement.

“We will pass some serious and substantial legislation,” said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, whose district office sits on just the other side of Broad Street from the site of Thursday’s news conference at the Columbia North YMCA, where three staff members in the last two years have been lost to the gun violence wracking the city.

The news conference came two days after a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed while walking to school in Philadelphia. And to pass any new gun legislation, Democrats will need the help of the Republican-controlled state Senate, which has opposed such measures and has swatted away similar efforts for years.

State Rep. Chris Rabb, D-Philadelphia, who was among the lawmakers who engineered a 2020 takeover of the House floor at the height of that year’s civil rights protests that led to the speedy passage — with GOP support — of a series of police reforms, said he believes similar tactics could work again.

“We don’t have to wait for elections,” to change the Senate, as they changed the House, Rabb argued. “This biggest thing is organizing — those [efforts] can and do work.”

LaRue said she’s ready for that kind of disruption. In fact, it might even be overdue.

“Maybe we can make them a little uncomfortable,” she said.

Some voices speak louder than others.

Copyright 2023 John L. Micek, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.