For the past 30 years or so, law enforcement agencies, prosecutor's offices and crime victim organizations across the nation observe a week in April each year as National Victims' Awareness Week. During this week, we put the spotlight on what is perhaps the most important facet of the entire criminal justice and judicial system; the victims.
So often, victims get lost in the shuffle of the system. Hopefully, with events across the nation, the system will recommit the energy and resources required to ensure that crime victims receive the same considerations as those who are actually accused of committing the crimes.
Without sacrificing any of the constitutional rights of the accused, it seems ludicrous that the victims of their actions do not receive an equal amount of representation as they work their way through the system in pursuit of justice. Ensuring that a defendant receives a fair trial should never mean that a victim must receive an unfair one. Victim organizations have always called for simply an even playing field as it pertains to their unsolicited, unwanted, and undeserved venture into our nation's court system.
While this goal has not yet been achieved, it is remarkable how much has been achieved in this venture in recent years. Victimization should not be confined to only that person to whom the crime was directly committed. A long and ever expanding list of mothers, fathers, entire families and friends are almost always victimized, based on anyone's definition of the word, as direct fallout of the actual crime. Victims often refer to these ordeals as nightmares and for so many of them the nightmare can go on for years. For others, it will remain with them forever.
We recently held a wreath ceremony at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Building to kick off the week and to honor those who had fallen victim to crime. The theme this year is "Reshaping the future ... Honoring the Past." It is a very appropriate theme as we have accomplished so much in a relatively short time when it comes to victims' rights. But, we can never become lethargic as we celebrate our accomplishments. We must always strive to do even better.
A few years ago, Gwinnett County's District Attorney Danny Porter stated that he looked forward to the day when events such as these were no longer necessary. While we all surely feel the same way, and hope for the same, this past week and recent events this year have reminded us that we are far from such a day.
We have witnessed crimes so far this year that have exhibited a level of violence that is disturbing to even the most seasoned veteran in this line of work. While every crime in which the results include loss of life are unnerving, recent events in which innocent children have been killed has severely loosened the underpinning of the basic stability that our system must have.
Such tragic and sudden losses to innocent children who have not even really began their lives are lost based on the cruel and calculated actions of others determined to create havoc to each and everyone who comes their way. We must hope that these individuals are held accountable for these vicious actions. While there is no way to bring back the lives of these children, anything less than total and full responsibility of those accused will be considered nothing short of system failure.
While cases such as these receive the majority of the attention from the press, thousands of people fall victim to other crimes each year that have dire ramifications to their lives as well. We must all ensure that our focus is not solely based on simply those cases that the media may have interest in, but we must fight diligently for all victims regardless of their type of victimization.
We must bring all victims of crime, from a victim of burglary at their home, to those that have had one of their children victimized, to those who have lost a loved one based on violent crime, to the forefront. Our families deserve it; our society expects it and our law enforcement and judicial system must demand it.
These wreaths will hang and be displayed the entire week. For those of us who may walk by a wreath during this week, please take a moment and think about all of the people that are represented by its presence. It is not only a wreath made up of beauty, color and style, but more importantly it is a wreath made up of men, women, children, entire families and friends that have suffered based on no actions of their own. Let this wreath reenergize each of us as we remember the number of people affected by any one case.
While it is their day to be remembered, perhaps it is our day to be reminded that these cases are not about statistics and trends. They are much more than evidence, probable cause and criminal statutes. Each case that is opened is about people, people just like all of us. And, on any given day, we too could walk the path that so many of them have been forced to traverse.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to each and every family whose lives have been affected by those who have such little concern for the sanctity of human life. While we have great hope that they will persevere in time, it is during this time of the year that we reflect on their losses and realize how quickly but for the grace of God we could be in their shoes.
Stan Hall is director of Gwinnett County's victim's witness program. If you would like to have him speak at your next group event, send requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.