TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It was a communion of crime survivors and leaders from communities across Florida, most harmed by crime and violence, but they say the least supported.
350 strong gathered at the Capital Tuesday morning for a day of healing, sharing stories, and advocating for a justice system that puts the needs of crime survivors at the center of policy making debates.
Survivors Speak was the second annual event for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a national network of 25,000 crime survivors who are advocating for policies that prevent crime, better support victims and their communities, and effectively target public safety resources.
Organizers said they want more investments in prevention programs, mental health treatment, and rehabilitation over more spending on incarceration.
They said crime survivors have a lot of barriers to care. Aswad Thomas was a former college basketball player who signed a professional contract in 2009 to play overseas and that same year he was shot twice in the back. He says he never received any help or support to deal with the trauma.
"Those bullets ended my basketball career. After that incident I was released out of the hospital back into the same community where it happened," said Thomas. "No access to no services, no counseling, no therapy, the hospital didn't follow up with me."
Patricia Oliver's son, Joaquin, was killed during the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In recent weeks, two student survivors of the attack have died by suicide. Oliver said long-term trauma assistance for victims and survivors is an essential part of any proposal that may come from the legislature this session.
"As we have been noticing with what has been happening recently in Parkland, we are in a crisis," said Oliver. "We need to concentrate on these issues like trauma recovery."
Many said they feel additional money to help survivors can come from doing a better job of rehabilitating those currently in prison. They said prisons need to create programs that allow inmates to have a better chance to succeed once released, which will save taxpayers money long-term.
Florida's Victims Compensation Program provides support for victims, but under the current law, a victim has to file a crime report in 72 hours to be eligible and the limit to apply for victim compensation is one year.
Organizers of Tuesday's event said they want to change that so victims have five days to file a crime report and five years to apply for victim compensation.