By Arielle Vaccaro
This past Monday, just before dusk, a group of community members stood in Clark Street School’s crowded playground. Attendees of all ages stood shoulder to shoulder. Some held a pink balloon in one hand.
Although balloons may usually symbolize a celebration to these Milwaukee residents, this time, they meant something far more solemn.
These balloons represented a young girl’s life cut short by the unsparing temper of a bullet, fired on a playground in the light of day.
On May 21, Sierra Guyton was playing at Clarke Street Elementary School’s playground with her sister, when two armed men (both maintaining criminal records) began to shoot across the way. A stray bullet hit Sierra in the head.
The ten-year-old survived under life support until June 25, at which point, she was taken off.
On Sunday, June 13, her health began to fail, and she passed away early in the morning.
As if to bid a reluctant farewell to the youthful spirit of Sierra Guyton, her classmates and other fellow community members let loose their balloons and quietly watched them rise, in a cloud of rosy pink, into the open sky.
If Sierra’s death does not speak to the prevalence of crime in Milwaukee, it might be hard to say that anything could.
In a city where the crime rate nearly doubles the national average, community organizers are making a call to action.
At the vigil, Community Forward founder, Tracey Dent, made that very plea to his community members.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he appeared to find that the fight is far from over.
“Every child out here is a Sierra Guyton,” said Dent at the vigil.
Dent was one of several to speak after the balloon launch. Each speaker gave his or her speech through a megaphone to a crowd of people of all ages.
Another speaker asked that the attendees hold hands, then hug a stranger standing next to them. Just about everyone obliged his request.
A common message carried in the voices of every speaker that took hold of the megaphone: Put down the guns.
However, that appears to be easier said than done. According the Journal Sentinel’s Homicide Tracker, 37 people have already been killed by gunshot in Milwaukee, year to date.
In a July 9 interview with the Milwaukee Courier, Milwaukee Alderwoman Milele Coggs addressed the staggering prevalence of homicides by gunshot.
“Collective work can help,” said Coggs, pointing to efforts made by Mayor Barrett — such as his Ceasefire Week in May — as well as Alderman Bob Donovan’s program, Operation Impact, meant to better facilitate police surveillance in the city.
Milwaukee Alderman Stamper oversees the 15th District, where Sierra was shot.
His office sent out a press release on Monday, inviting the public to attend the vigil and balloon launch in Sierra’s memory.
In addition, he recognized a “recent rash of gun violence that has stricken our great city”.
“As Alderman of the 15th District, it is my responsibility and duty to put forth initiatives and legislation that can foster a safer community for our children and for us,” said Ald. Stamper in the release.
By the end of the vigil, the sky was overcast, ready to break into a drizzle.
Attendees could see, tied to the fence, a stuffed-animal duck, bunches of balloons, notes, and a picture of Sierra in a homemade, purple frame.
The photo of the young girl served as a reminder that a gun does not see age or gender or race; that a bullet can take away the object of a mother, father, sister, brother, teacher, or friend’s love in an instant; that if things are to get better, a community must work together.