Marathon Lockdown Serves As Eye-Opener For Suburban Moms18:22
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Katherine Gekas, (left), a mother in Newton, a affluent suburban Boston town, and Tina Chery, (right), whose son was shot and killed in 1993. She is founder of the Louis D. Brown Institute. (Robin Lubbock/Here & Now)
Katherine Gekas, (left), a mother in Newton, a affluent suburban Boston town, and Tina Chery, (right), whose son was shot and killed in 1993. She is founder of the Louis D. Brown Institute. (Robin Lubbock/Here & Now)

Mother's Day is Sunday. Its origins --- stretching back to the carnage of the Civil War as "Mother's Peace Day" --- are touching a nerve in Boston suburbs this year as families grapple with the aftermath of the Marathon bombings.

On the Friday following the bombings, a fear unlike any other gripped some of Boston's most affluent suburbs, some of which were on lockdown after police issued a "shelter in place" order. Police swarmed through manicured backyards, hunting for the suspected bombers as mothers huddled with their families behind locked doors.

She wasn't afraid her son would get hurt by the suspect still on the loose. She was afraid he'd get killed by a nervous police officer.

A few days later, I was standing on the sidelines in suburban Newton — considered one of the safest cities in the country — watching my son, Nick, play ultimate frisbee. Another mom, Katherine Gekas, started talking about how Newton's lockdown and the Friday manhunt jarred her into a new perspective.

She said she was scared to let her son out of the house when they lifted the "shelter in place" order that Friday. Gekas wasn't afraid he would get hurt by the suspect still on the loose. She was afraid he'd get killed by a nervous police officer.

Gekas said that when you look at her son, Alex, in profile, he looks like 19-year-old Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the young man who was the target of the police search.

Gekas later told Here & Now’s Robin Young that when her son came into the kitchen and announced that he was walking to a friend's house, "I flipped. I told him he was in 'mommy lockdown' and he wasn't going anywhere."

Gekas' husband convinced her to let Alex leave the house, but he first gave his son the same warning that black inner-city teenage boys hear about how to behave when confronted by police: Don't run away, keep your hands visible, don't reach into your pockets.

"I don't normally have a fear of police, and I never have thought to instruct my son like this," Gekas said. "But he has grown six inches in the past year and he's looking like a young man and he does wear kind of baggy clothes."

Echoes Of The Inner City

When Gekas told her brother about her fear, he said, "Now you know how it feels to be an African-American mother... That's what [they] worry about all the time."

"My immediate reaction, was, 'No way. They can't feel this way every day'," Gekas said. "There's no way someone could live like this."

"Welcome to my world," Tina Chery told Gekas, in a conversation with Here & Now's Robin Young.

Chery is an inner-city mom, and 20 years ago her 15-year-old son was killed when he was caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting as he walked to an afternoon meeting of Teens Against Gang Violence.

“This wall of black and white that we have put up… it is time to break that wall down and to truly be that one Boston.”

Tina Chery, founder of The Louis D. Brown Institute

"It's our reality," Cherry adds, noting that crimes are committed by only a tiny fraction of the people living in troubled areas. "It is 1 percent of the population."

Since her son's death, Chery founded an organization, the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, named for her son. Police refer families who have been victimized by inner-city violence to the institute for help with burial and paperwork, and with ongoing counseling and support.

The institute had a lot to do the week of the marathon bombings because, while police were hunting for the bombers in the suburbs that Friday, in Boston there were two fatal shootings.

Chery says she got a call from the father of one the murder victims who urgently needed her help, but was stymied.

"This father is struggling because he needs the financial resources to bury his son," Chery said. "He said, 'Ms. Chery, I can't go anywhere. The city's on lockdown.' "

"So I had to come in that Saturday," Cherry said. "I could not, in my humanity, tell him to come in on Monday morning."

Hoping For A Fund For Homicide Victims

Chery says she is glad that funds have been raised for the Boston Marathon bombing victims, but would like to see that model expanded to include victims of all kinds of violence.

"This is exactly the model that we need to set up," Chery said. "A Boston victims homicide fund to assist those families who can't afford to bury their loved one. And not only for Boston, but for cities across our country who are dealing with the same issue."

How Violence Impacts The Community

While the lockdown in Newton and other Boston suburbs lasted 24 hours, for urban mothers and families in high-crime areas, it's a stress they deal with every day.

"It's a chronic impact," Chery said. "You're hearing gunshots. You're hearing the crime, the homicides, the unsolved murders. There's really not much time to take it in and go through that grieving process."

Much of Boston was glued to broadcast updates that Friday after the marathon, but Gekas couldn't bring herself to watch. Neither could Chery. "It was too much. It was re-traumatizing," she said. "It takes you back to when you got that call that your child was murdered that there was a shootout on the street. Not as massive as this, but a shootout in broad daylight. So for me, it took me back to all of that. I cannot go there."

A Mother's Day Walk For Peace

Chery's 17th Annual Mother's Day Walk for Peace is this Sunday, May 12. Chery says there is an upsurge in interest among suburban mothers like Gekas who — jolted by the suburban lockdown during the marathon bomber manhunt — have a heightened awareness of what families in high-crime areas of Boston experience daily. She says the numbers of suburban mothers signed up for the march this year has about doubled.

Chery says mothers are coming in to Fields Corner in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood from suburban communities surrounding Boston to take part in the walk, with a full busload coming from Lexington alone. Funds raised by the walk support the Louis D. Brown Institute's work with the families of victims of violence.

"We are one Boston," Chery said. "And if we're one Boston, this division and this wall of black and white that we have put up...mothers are saying, fathers are saying, ministers are saying...it is time to break that wall down and to truly be that one Boston."

In honor of the Mother's Day Walk For Peace, the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Boston will be illuminated all weekend in purple lights as a symbol of peace. 

Guests:

  • Tina Chery, mother whose son was killed in 1996. Founder of the Mother's Day Walk for Peace and The Louis D. Brown Institute
  • Katherine Gekas, Newton mother of 16 year old Alex Gekas

This segment aired on May 10, 2013.

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