Following their children’s death, parents are using social media groups to share stories, find justice and process their grief
Early on 20 April 2018, Joseph Alexander woke up to a multitude of text messages, missed calls, and voicemails. He turned on the local news and saw footage from a crime scene at a convenience store in Richmond, California, and a body lying on the ground covered by a yellow tarp. As he went through his missed calls, he realized that the body under the tarp was that of his 21- year old son, Joseph “Bunk” Alexander II, The Guardian reports.
Alexander doesn’t remember much from the days following his son’s killing, he only recalls crying uncontrollably.
“He was my namesake, my first child. We’re almost at day 500 and it feels like it happened yesterday,” he told the Guardian on a recent afternoon.
Alexander’s son was one of four young men shot and killed in Richmond, a city less than 20 miles from San Francisco, that April. And for the father, his world collapsed.
“I was trippin’. I saw my son under a tarp on the news while I’m reading the texts,” Alexander said. “Every time my alarm goes off now, I think about it. The morning time is really rough.”
Grappling with his loss a few months after his son’s death, Alexander started the “Justice for Bunk” Facebook group. It’s one of hundreds of public Facebook pages created in memory of deceased family members and celebrities.
For some, the pages operate as a place to collectively grieve and share positive memories. For others, including Alexander, they operate as informal tip lines, and spaces where people can express anger, sadness, hope and encouragement.
And they provide an outlet for people to reclaim their loved one’s memory and rebuke the narratives about gang activity and poor parenting that come with the violence that occurs in low-income black and Latino communities.
“I’ve met so many moms and dads who have lost their kids all kinds of ways, and the connection is so strong ’cause we have the same feelings,” Alexander said. “The world thinks life is supposed to go on, they don’t understand it.”
“Justice for Bunk” has 582 members, and is a part of a community of parents and anti-violence activists in California’s Bay Area. There’s Richmond Street Angels, Adamika Village #stopkillingourkidsmovement, and Who MurderedMy Child? Each of these hyperlocal pages share breaking news about murders, stories about the victim, pleas for information from family members, and updates on any cases following the murder.
More than 1,700 people were murdered in California in 2017, Almost 500 (about 30%) of the victims were under the age of 24 when they were killed. Across the United States, homicide was the third leading cause of death in the US for people ages 10-24 in 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dinyal New started her Facebook page in November 2014, almost nine months after both of her sons were murdered within 19 days of each other in east Oakland.
On the night of 31 December 2013, New’s youngest son, 13-year old Lee Weathersby III, was shot over 20 times as he walked home. On 19 January 2014, Lee’s older brother, 19-year old Lamar Broussard was sitting in his car when he and his friend Derryck Harris were fatally shot.
In the five years since the murders, New’s Who Murdered My Child Facebook page has grown to over 40,000 members and there are now Who Murdered My Child” Facebook branches in cities including Chicago, New Orleans and Sacramento.
“I was just a mama who was very young when she lost her kids. Now that they’re not here, I have to channel this energy,” New said.
New said a major motivation to create and maintain the page was to dispel the stereotypes that are attached to black murder victims and their parents.
“Oh, the welfare recipient mom, she kept her kids in the hood,” New says of the stereotypes that were invoked following the news of her son’s killings.
“Since it happened 19 days apart, and it was two brothers, they automatically assumed gang activity,” New continued. “But it’s not always what the news media puts out; that one son got killed because of the actions of the other. You have to dig deeper.”
Camille Hannays-King, a counselor, and researcher who specializes in anxiety and depression among black families said that in reports on young black men being lost to gun violence, the assumption of innocence is often lost.
“The assumption is that they were involved with something illegal and as a result people may withhold support or may be judgmental,” she said.
“Parents who feel stigmatized often times retreat,” Hannays-King added. “But social activism is powerful. It builds communal connections, and it retrieves the child from being just ‘murdered’ to someone the [parent is] protecting.”
While these pages exist primarily online, the social support and sense of purpose that these pages offer can help build the type of community that experts like Hannays-King say is a valuable part of bereavement and healing.
“[The page] keeps my mind off of what happened,” Alexander echoes.
“I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. That’s why in the morning and at night it’s so heavy on me because most of the time: I’m fighting for justice making posts.”
Both Alexander and New say that their version of justice includes the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for their sons’ murders. And while neither have experienced this justice, they are active members of a network of parents who, because of their shared trauma, have become community activists.
“I hope [the Facebook page] may touch the heart of someone who’s about to go pull the trigger,” Alexander said, “and lets them see that they’re gonna hurt someone’s whole family just by pulling the trigger over some b.s.”