For the next month, the fence around Western Presbyterian Church on Virginia Avenue will be covered with 210 T-shirts, each with the name of someone who died from gun violence in the D.C. metropolitan area in 2015.
On Feb. 10, the church partnered with a regional gun violence prevention organization and put up 155 shirts representing the gun violence victims from 2014. The shirts surrounded the church for two weeks.
Leaders of the church and the organization, Heeding God’s Call, say displaying these symbolic shirts will force communities to confront the realities of gun violence and incite new conversations about gun violence and control. Western Presbyterian is one of 14 churches in the D.C. area that will rotate the T-shirt display.
The shirts included the name, age and a date for all of of the victims. The ages of these victims fell between 3 to 73 years old, and their causes of death ranged just as widely, from homicides to murder-suicides.
Lisa Delity, the chairperson for the D.C. chapter of Heeding God’s Call, said she believes that people who see the shirts all at once will realize the importance of discussing and preventing gun violence.
“When you see it all together, at one time, it means a little bit more,” she said. “Our hope is that it will draw attention to how many lives are lost.”
Delity said the group is looking to recruit youth volunteers about gun violence prevention.
“We want to get more students involved. If you look at the shirts, there are a couple of older victims, but most of them are of student age,” Delity said.
JC Cadwallader, Western Presbyterian’s interim associate pastor, said a member of the church was the “flag bearer” for this installment.
“This is a huge part of our community that has perished in one year,” Cadwallader said about the magnitude of the T-shirt display. “It’s alarming.”
There was a 54 percent increase in homicides in D.C. last year compared to the year before, according to crime data from the Metropolitan Police Department. There have been 16 homicides in the city this year so far, the same amount that there had been this time last year.
Last week, there were mass shootings in Kansas that led to at least four deaths and 14 injuries, USA Today reported Friday.
While the memorial is not necessarily a solution to the issue of gun violence, Cadwallader said she hopes the memorial can help create a more hopeful and optimistic community.
“Particularly in a debate that’s steeped in death, and destruction and violence, coming into that discussion with a hopeful outlook can enable life and justice to flourish, and can build communities back up,” she said.