The weather was rainy but the mood was cheerful and the message resolute as victims of violent crimes and their families joined law enforcement officials at Howell Park Saturday for a picnic with a theme that resonated for those who came.
They gathered for Baton Rouge’s second annual Crime Victims Awareness Picnic to talk about violent crime, its impact on victims and how to spark change.
“My baby brother Cornelius (Harris) was murdered in Baton Rouge, and he didn’t deserve that,” said Valerie Harris Washington, a resident of Wilson who attended the picnic.
She and five family members braved the stormy weather to represent the memory of Cornelius Harris, an Army veteran shot in Baton Rouge in 2009.
The Harris family members said functions like the picnic that help raise awareness about violence can ease the suffering of the victims and their families and are a way to educate others about the consequences of violence.
The picnic, themed “Engaging Communities, Empowering Victims,” showcased measures Baton Rouge law enforcement officials are taking to attain that goal.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, whose office coordinated the picnic with the city Police Department’s BRAVE unit, said such events are working to not only educate the public but also help bring crime rates down.
Moore said data show crime decreases by 20 percent overall for six weeks in the immediate vicinity of events similar to the one on Saturday. A combination of the event itself and educational pamphlets distributed in adjacent neighborhoods make an impact, he said.
Further, he said events like the picnic offer an opportunity for neighborhood residents to view law enforcement in a different light.
“We’re here to show that we’re here for them, and we’re not going away,” Moore said. “We do care about these neighborhoods and care about these people.”
Employees of the District Attorney’s Office work regularly with the victims of violent crime. Members of the agency’s Victims Assistance Bureau assist them through court hearings, provide education and otherwise lend a helping hand during a difficult time.
Kayla Atkins said she found solace in the bureau in 2012 when she was shot four times by her then husband, Frank Atkins, which left her paralyzed and caused her to lose her unborn child.
“They talked to me during the trial and made sure everything was in place so that he could be convicted,” Kayla Atkins said.
Kayla Atkins was scheduled to speak at the picnic but was unable to attend. In a telephone interview, she described working closely with bureau employees during her ex-husband’s trial.
She said they helped her with paperwork and ensured the process was as seamless as possible while she recovered in the hospital.
“I’m very thankful for my experience,” Kayla said. “And now I’m able to speak at different events, helping others get out of the situation they are in.”