Story at a glance
- #HealTheVote is a campaign to mobilize crime survivors as a voting bloc ahead of the presidential election.
- The nonpartisan effort is focused on voter education and elevating the voices of those who have been affected by crime.
- Several athletes whose careers were ended by violence are sharing their stories in hopes of reaching potential voters.
In a year of tremendous losses, a group of survivors is lending their voice to those who are no longer here.
“I'm still alive, I have a platform, I have a voice, I just want to speak up for people who cannot speak up,” said Stedman Bailey, a former wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams.
Bailey’s career ended in 2015 when he was shot twice in the head while sitting in his car with three of his family members in Miami Gardens, Fla. The perpetrators were never caught and Bailey never played in the NFL again.
“I don’t think that justice, as far as catching the perpetrators, was something that was looked at as essential,” he said. “Sometimes I look at it from the perspective of: I’m a minority, considered to be a minority in this country, so to what degree do I matter where law enforcement are concerned?”
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After a month in the hospital and some physical therapy, Bailey was released, without any support or any idea where to find it. He had to figure it out for himself, but now Bailey is working to get other survivors of violent crime the resources they need to vote.
The #HealTheVote campaign is working to mobilize a network of crime survivors. Aswad Thomas, the managing director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, realized that many of his network’s more than 40,000 members had questions about voting by mail, checking their registration and upcoming deadlines.
“We are trying to change a system that has destroyed Black and brown communities for decades. In the criminal justice system, the voices of crime victims that look like me aren’t at policy making tables,” he said.
Thomas, a former college basketball player, was the first member of his family to graduate from college. He was shot twice in the back during an attempted armed robbery in his neighborhood, ending his basketball career and putting him in the same place as Bailey and many others.
“Crime victims that look just like me and are from communities of color like me have been neglected,” he said.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death this summer, violence against Black Americans and the criminal justice system have become the center of national conversation. But victims, especially Black victims, don’t always fit a ready-made narrative. Thomas and other survivors hope that by sharing their stories, they can refocus the conversation.
“This is the most important election of our lifetime, so when I’m voting this year, I’m voting all my friends that are no longer here that can’t vote, I’m voting for all my family members in prison who can’t vote,” said Thomas, who has lost dozens of friends to gun violence. “This isn't a short term healing process..this is ongoing trauma that we experience in our own lives as survivors of crime but also in communities across the country.”
The nonpartisan campaign has held virtual forums in multiple states with crime survivors and local legislators. The group also hosted a day of action on Oct. 24, phone banking and raising awareness of a set of policy priorities, including expanding the victims compensation program, trauma recovery services and a criminal justice program that prioritizes rehabilitation.
“Through gymnastics, I was constantly reminded that my own health mattered less than if I could win,” said Katelyn Ohashi, six-time All-American gymnast, who spoke at the #HealTheVote Day of Action, in a statement. “Gymnastics made me part of a community that includes so many survivor voices. And together, we learned the power of speaking out. Every survivor has a story that deserves to be heard. We have to get out and vote not only for ourselves, but because we believe it's possible to build a country in which survivors of violence are met with the resources they need to heal, rather than added shame and stigma.”
This election will be Bailey’s first time voting. The 29-year-old said he’s hopeful to see what kind of change will come after November.
“Ultimately, people like myself do deserve to be heard when it comes to discussions around gun safety,” he said. “I feel that when survivors speak, change happens.”
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