NEW YORK — The sun had just set as Monica Cassaberry let a white balloon fly into the air. She craned her neck and stared into the Brooklyn sky, her face wracked with a mix of emotions, and thought about the last time she saw her second-born child, Jamal.
“Before I walked into that hospital they was washing down his gurney and all the blood was on it and it was red,” she told the group gathered around her. As more balloons rose, other grieving parents who have lost a child to gun violence spoke endearing words about Singleton and tried to comfort one another. Cassaberry chose blue and white balloons, she explained, because the color red gives her bad memories of blood.
This Wednesday gathering in front of her Brownsville home marked the seventh anniversary of the day Cassaberry’s son, Jamal Singleton, was fatally shot. It’s a grim date she commemorates as her son’s murderversary. Many of the people who came have turned their pain into strength and become fierce anti-gun violence activists after their children’s deaths.
Cassaberry stages her event to bring attention to her son’s case, which remains unsolved. As she held her vigil, New York Police Department detectives were at the scene handing out fliers encouraging residents to let them know if they had any information about Singleton’s killing. So far police have made no arrests in connection with his case.
Day of Remembrance
At first she wasn’t going to hold the seventh “murderversary” vigil because she hadn’t heard from police in more than a year. She was frustrated that she wasn’t getting updates. That all changed two weeks ago when a detective called and told her they were actively working on her son’s case.
“They said they were gonna start requestioning people, and we’re gonna meet with you,” Cassaberry said. “I felt that was a sign for this event to happen today.”
She plans to attend a series of events Tuesday in Harlem for the National Day of Remembrance for people who have lost loved ones to violence. She is participating not just to draw attention to other mothers like her. She also wants to draw attention to the plague of gun violence in neighborhoods like hers and the trauma that comes in its wake, like mental illness and suicide.
Phyllis Pinnix, whose son was also a victim of gun violence but whose case was solved, said the police didn’t do enough for her son’s case.
“If it wasn’t for an email being sent to the police complaining about nothing being done, my son’s case would’ve been unsolved too,” she said. She supports Cassaberry and other mothers in their fight for justice to help others avoid the pain she has and continues to endure.
“If I couldn’t save my son, I will save someone else’s,” Pinnix said.
Pamela Hight, who lost two of her sons to homicide a few years ago, spoke about how she and Cassaberry have bonded.
“Monica worked side by side with me when my son’s case went to trial,” she said. “From that day on, we’ve been together ever since.”
Survivors, not victims
Cassaberry has become fearless in the fight to end gun violence. “I’ve been on the murder scene since my grandson’s godfather had been shot and I ran to the gunshot. I ran to ‘em,” she said. “Things like that will never leave me and if I don’t go out here and speak about, then who’s gonna do it? How is anybody gonna know about how all of us mothers feel?”
The mothers don’t refer to themselves as victims. “Our children may have been victims of gun violence, but we’re survivors,” Hight said.
Ithream Brown lost her son, Girbari Donte Lao, in a shooting in 2016. She has turned her grief into action by starting a foundation in his name. “That’s what came out of this tragedy, this foundation to help other gun violence victims,” she said.
Mike Tucker was inspired to start the Lay the Guns Down Foundation when his son was killed in 2005. The foundation works with government officials, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and the mayor’s office, to educate people about the consequences of gun violence, he said.
As for Cassaberry, she remains hopeful that her son’s case will be solved and is committed to her quest to end gun violence.
“The politicians say all the right things when it’s election time, but they turn their backs on us once they get into office,” she said. “I have had enough of it. I’m sick of it. I’m considering running for office myself to make some real change.”
Another mother overheard her and shouted: “You’ve got my vote!”
This story has been updated.