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2 grief-stricken Tampa parents hope city follows through and creates crime victim fund

The city is studying the possibility of offering financial assistance to crime victims or their surviving family members
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Posted at 8:45 AM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 10:58:45-04

Years have passed, but for Patricia Brown and Johnny Johnson — two Tampa parents who lost their sons to gun violence — the grief is as fresh as ever.

The tears can come suddenly. Even the most mundane sight or sound can spark a memory and more tears.

“I just had a breakdown last night,” said Brown. “It — it hurts, and it hurts like hell.”

As she and Johnson sat side-by-side on a picnic table in the shade of a Ragan Park pavilion, both clasped mementos that hung around their necks.

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Brown’s memento is a heart-shaped metal charm that contains a photo of her son, Devante Brown. The 27-year-old was killed in a March 2020 shooting in Tampa.

“That was my baby,” she said softly, while looking down at the charm. “‘Vante had just come home from work. Walking through the neighborhood. They come through shooting. Just got caught by the crossfire. Shot and killed. Never harmed no one. Never had a fight. Never had an argument. Nothing.”

Johnson’s memento is similar: a lanyard that features a photo of his son and a pocket holding a lock of his hair.

“I plucked from his head inside his casket,” he said, as tears streamed down his cheeks. “I’m not going to say I’m sorry, because this is a natural reaction, and I would love for people to go through something to stop saying they’re sorry, because this is natural.”

His son, Jayquon Johnson, 17, was killed in a shooting on New Year’s Day in 2017.

“I sit here with pain,” said Johnson. “Pain makes you move. Unfortunately, for my pain, I can’t go to Tampa General or St. Joseph or AdventHealth for the pain I deal with, nor can I go to the street corners for recreational drugs — nor can I go to the liquor store and get booze.”

Both parents, who are co-founders of the nonprofit Rise Up for Peace, say their losses were more than painful. They were life-changing.

But “life” never stopped. Bills kept coming. The mortgage was still due.

“Didn’t know what to do,” remembered Brown. “I mean, didn’t know where I was going to go.”

Brown turned to family for help. Johnson stayed afloat by selling his house. But, to this day, both wish there was a better way. That’s Councilman Luis Viera’s wish too.

“As an elected official, I can’t be silent on this issue,” he said. “We have to have a level of empathy and a thirst for justice in supporting victims of crime.”

Right now, with the support of Viera and other council members, Tampa Police Department is studying better ways to help crime victims or their families.

According to a memo from Chief Mary O’Connor, the department is in the “development phase of creating a comprehensive Victim Advocate Program.”

O’Connor writes that the program might include several facets, like a four-day retreat for crime victims, assistance for witnesses and victims in fear of retaliation, transportation services for victims, and crisis intervention.

Most notably, the program might also include “assistance with the Crime Victim Compensation Fund.” That service, provided by the Florida Attorney General, provides financial support to crime victims or their families “for medical care, lost income, mental health services, funeral expenses and other out-of-pocket expenses directly related” to the crime.

Viera believes the City of Tampa could potentially supplement that fund.

“I would support taxpayer dollars. You know, that’s what government’s here for. Government is here to do for the people what we can’t do for ourselves,” he said. “I want to make sure that that gets started as soon as possible.”

Last week, Viera and his colleagues instructed the Tampa Police Department to report back to the council in August with more details about creating such a fund in Tampa.

Parents like Johnson and Brown say that kind of aid would never erase their grief, but they say it would help and serve as a small ray of sunshine in an overwhelming fog of despair.

“It’s a fog that never lets up,” Johnson said, as the lanyard holding the lock of his son’s hair brushed against his chest. “Support is needed, and the definition of support is to hold up, uphold, or encourage.”

At city council’s direction, the Tampa Police Department is also studying the possibility of building a memorial dedicated to local crime victims.