MILWAUKEE -- A candlelight vigil was held Sunday, Dec. 29 for the homicide victims killed in Milwaukee in 2019.
Names of 120 victims were read aloud as a message of love was shared with those who lost someone to violence -- from names more recognizable in all corners of the city, like that of Milwaukee Police Officer Matthew Rittner, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in February, to those that might have faded from the minds of the larger public, like that of Kentrell Toliver, in the months after their deaths -- but not for their families.
"Each and every one of us in this room are tired of the candles, are tired of seeing the stuffed animals, are tired seeing mamas crying, tired of seeing on the news that a baby is gone," said Rev. Rodney Campbell.
While the annual event sounded a somber note as people prepared to ring in 2020, it wasn't lost on the 50 or so people inside Crossing Jordan Ministries Church near 6th Street and Concordia Avenue that new numbers would undoubtedly follow.
"We just reach our arms out and we just love you today," said Rev. Campbell. "It's very important that you know that people love you. After the ceremony, people are still thinking about you. That's why we are here today."
The vigil included elected officials from City Hall to the U.S. Capitol.
"There are too many candles on this table, and we're trying to do all that we can to combat that, but we need help to do it," said Alderman Cavalier Johnson.
"Be comforted -- that there are people out here who are working every day," said Congresswoman Gwen Moore.
They said they only way to avoid lighting more candles is through activism and love -- to prevent more lives from being snuffed out, and to recognize that the pain and hurt extends to the hundreds more who have survived the violence.
"Without love, it is impossible to receive healing and to receive peace," said Zina Campbell with Crossing Jordan Ministries.
As of Thursday, Dec. 26, officials with the City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention reported 99 homicides year-to-date in 2019 compared with 94 in 2018, and 118 in 2017, noting that non-fatal shootings are down 7% year-to-date from 473 in 2018 to 442 in 2019, while homicides are up 5% year-to-date.