Palm Desert Mayor Robert Speigel proclaims Week of April 22-28 as a time to honor victims and their families
by Debbie Fried
April has been proclaimed California Victims’ Rights Month. In commemoration, the Riverside County’s District Attorney’s office, under the direction of Paul Zellerbach, conducted its sixth annual candlelight vigil on Tuesday, April 24 at the Palm Desert Civic Center Park.
The theme for 2012 is “Extending the Vision, Reaching Every Victim.” This year’s theme reflects the mission of the Riverside County’s District Attorney’s office, says Zellerbach, who remembers a time when victims of crime had no rights or special services available to them. Even today, people whose lives have been impacted by such tragedies are “left to struggle with the criminal justice system”, and at times, [even] I find the criminal justice system confusing,” he said. Zellerbach explains that one of the primary goals of the vigils is “to pay tribute to the millions of crime victims who have summoned the strength to rebuild their shattered lives…one step at a time.”
It is an all-too-common presence in headlines across the nation- the tragic story of a life taken from an innocent victim, leaving family members to grapple with “a new normal,” explains featured guest speaker Jami Davis.Davis joined on stage about a dozen Riverside County and Coachella Valley leaders who work in many different capacities of the criminal justice system, from the D.A.’s office, to victim’s advocates who remain close to family members and help them through their grief. Davis knows first-hand what it means to navigate the justice system after experiencing the loss of her mother due to violence committed by her father. She describes her journey into “the new normal,” a phrase she said she learned after tradegy hit her family. Feeling “powerless and having endless questions,” she wondered, “How are we supposed to get along without our Mom and Dad? Me and my family are survivors of a very violent loss, but I came not to tell you how angry I am or how bad life is, but how good life can be.”
These words sum up how she has emerged from the past 18 months, fraught with making important decisions. Davis counseled the crowd: “Don’t let the events of one night dictate the rest of your lives. We have been blessed by a community of support. By ‘paying it forward’ we help others to take that first breath and first step, not in coping one day at a time, but one minute at a time.”
Officials taking part in the ceremony also included District 4 County Supervisor, John Benoit, Palm Springs Police Chief, Al Franz and Indio Police Chief, Richard Twiss. Each participant in the ceremony read off the names and ages of eight murder victims. One child was three years old, another two, and another, just one year old. Among the victims were also young adults, parents and grandparents.According to Chuck Robinson of the Cathedral City Police Department, $1.2 billion in losses were reported in the commission of crimes in 2011, with the legislated Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund distributing $1.5 million to families of victims. Robinson added, “being a victim of crime can happen to anyone, regardless of age.”
Zellerbach expressed dismay at Senate Bill 490, which may repeal the death penalty initiative, approved by voters as Proposition 7, back in 1978. If SB 490 is approved in November, “it will commute the sentences of 700 death row inmates.” Zellerbach told the crowd that he met with Gov. Jerry Brown in Sacramento that morning. The governor reportedly told him, “whatever the people decide, I will follow.” At the conclusion of the vigil, Zellerbach reiterated that the D.A.’s office and the community are committed to assisting victims by leading them to needed resources and advancing a system that is responsive to their needs. Davis exhorted the audience: “Let go of fear- believe in something; take a risk and help someone in your community.”