GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This week, Grand Rapids’ Blue Bridge will be illuminated purple for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Visitors walking across the downtown staple will also notice laminated pieces of paper zip tied to the side of the bridge. Each lists the name of someone killed as a result of domestic violence in Michigan last year.
The memorial is new this year, given the annual candlelight vigil being held virtually due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team organized the display. Safe Haven Ministries Director of Prevention and Education Tara Aday and Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker co-chair the team.
“We still wanted to create a visual way of memorializing folks and honoring their life,” Aday said. “I think a lot of times when we read statistics, it’s easy to forget that there are real lives that are behind those numbers and so by doing something like this, yes, we’re sharing the number of homicides, but more importantly we’re sharing the names and really trying to humanize something that is devastating our community.”
In all, 46 people are represented in the display. That figure, while as accurate as possible, is somewhat representative of the stigma that surrounds domestic violence as a whole: There’s no way to know the real number of domestic violence homicide victims because Michigan doesn’t have a central database producing statistics.
“So each year, we’re really just contacting counties. We’re calling local police departments and prosecutors, looking at media reports,” Aday explained. “I fear, you know, forgetting or leaving out a name because there isn’t just a comprehensive database.”
Part of that stems from the state not having a charge code specific to domestic violence homicide when categorizing crime.
“It’s hard to know how to combat it unless you have the numbers,” Becker said. “Whereas maybe if you had even a special code, that’d be easy for every office to pull and every office to upload to the state police, and then you have a really good idea of exactly how many of these were domestic violence-related and maybe start looking at them what can be done to prevent them.”
The prosecutor added efforts to combat these horrific tragedies doesn’t just rest on the criminal justice system.
“I think there’s room for a lot of other people to participate in combating domestic violence,” Becker said, encouraging the community to get involved with DVCCRT.
You can learn more about the response team on its website.
The virtual candlelight vigil will happen Oct. 27.