Sisters’ protest breaks service
The anguish and grief over the continuing scourge of Boston gun violence moved from the street into local churches yesterday, when relatives of a young man who was shot to death last week interrupted a morning service in Mattapan asking that churches take greater responsibility for helping to bury slaying victims in their community.
Anntonette Gaskins and her sister, Tanzania Wilson, walked along Blue Hill Avenue from Morningstar Baptist Church to Jubilee Christian Church, holding a large sign covered with pictures of Gaskin’s son, David. He was shot dead on Glenway Street in Mattapan on Dec. 8. He would have turned 20 yesterday.
“I’m angry, I’m saddened, I’m frustrated,” Gaskins, who lives in Dorchester, said during the walk.
Along with several other members of their family, the sisters marched onto the stage at Jubilee Christian Church during Sunday services to ask that churches help pay for the funeral and burial costs of all victims of city violence, and that they educate parents on the importance of life insurance for their children.
They spoke briefly to the executive pastor, the Rev. Matthew K. Thompson, who was preaching at the time, before they were escorted off the stage and out a back door.
“If you didn’t hear, her son was killed and she was grieving,” Thompson told the worshipers. “It’s just a great message. It just wasn’t the time or place,” he said.
After the service, Thompson said his church and many others in the city do not charge for the funeral services of murder victims.
“That’s one of the missions of the church,” he said. “I think the only thing I’ll say is that there’s a way to [protest]. It’s not that the pain they feel is wrong. I felt it.”
The Rev. Charles Sumner, another pastor at Jubilee, said that removing the family from the front of the church was not an act of rejection. He said church officials wanted to put them in touch with the right people to help them. “By no means are we rejecting her cry or her plight,” he said.
Although a pastor met with the family after the incident, Wilson, who lives in Sharon, said she and her sister felt rejected, and that her own son was upset about what had happened.
“When they put their hands on me and was pushing us out, that’s the moment my son there lost faith,” she said.
Wilson said the church told her they would call them about helping with the expenses.
“I’m just so confused. I feel like I’m living in hell right now,” Gaskins, the mother of the victim, said during the walk.
“He was a free-spirit child, goofy. He had charisma. He made everybody happy and laugh,” she about her son. “He never sold drugs. He never carried guns, he didn’t believe in them.”
Wilson called on churches to work together to reach out to the families of murder victims.
“With every person who falls, the church should be there to pick up the child. And I mean every child who falls on the streets of Boston,” Wilson said during the beginning of the family’s walk. She gestured at the large Morningstar Baptist Church and added, “It’s not important that that building is beautiful. It’s important that the people know that they’re worthy of the church’s help.”
Wilson said her nephew was a “church-hopper,” regularly attending several different churches, including Morningstar and Jubilee, but was not a member of either.
Wilson said he gave what little he could to the churches he attended every week, arguing that the churches that take money in tithes from city youth should give back “in a meaningful way” in difficult times.
She said her sister, like many parents, do not have life insurance policies for their children, and that she hoped to work with churches to change that.
“They think it’s a taboo. They think they’re jinxing their kids, and it’s somewhat morbid to think you’re going to get money off your child’s death,” Wilson said. “The public needs to be educated as to why it’s important. It’s not a taboo, it’s not jinxing your kids, because my sister didn’t have life insurance, and her child still died.”