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Remarks from DDOM Founder Zoe Gross at the DC Vigil

I believe everyone should be loved. I believe everyone should be safe. I believe all our lives have value. I believe murder is wrong. I believe the dead should be mourned. I believe we should say their names.

Every year I sit down to write and I think that I am empty and I have no more words. Then I read about the people we have lost and I cry because they are gone.

There are only so many ways to say this.

The people we have lost were amazing. They were beautiful. We don’t know nearly enough about them. We don’t know enough because all too often, more text is devoted to justifying their deaths than to celebrating their lives. Because instead of being mourned, they are publicly scolded for having existed at all.

I believe they should be mourned. I am determined we will remember them.

I’d like to tell you about some of the people we lost since we were here last year.

Gary Lee Blanton III had a developmental disability and loved T-ball, playing with his family and friends, his toy cars, and eating pizza. He loved hugs and kisses. He was being raised by his aunt. She was physically abusing him. His obituary says that every morning when she came to wake him up, he would greet her by saying “Good morning, Mommy, I love you.” She beat him to death. He was five years old.

Emily Janzen was nineteen. She hoped to become a professional opera singer. Her friends described her as a goofy, fun-loving person, and a talented, dedicated performer. She struggled with severe migraines and had become depressed. Her father said that he killed her to end her pain.

Here is what Emily wrote on Twitter a month before she was murdered: “Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I just thank God I’m still alive. I complain about all the pain, but at least I’m here to feel it.”

I found a video online of Emily singing the lead role in Sunset Boulevard. She was the kind of performer who is so captivating to watch that the people on stage with her applaud. She sang, Has there ever been a moment with so much to live for?

Ahziya Osceola was autistic – and I can tell you nothing else about who he was, except that I saw a photograph of him smiling and wearing a plastic firefighter’s hat, a month before he was murdered. He was three years old. In his short life, he was neglected and abused. He never got to be safe.

I believe everyone should be safe. I believe everyone should be loved. I read about the people we have lost and I cry because they are gone.

Courtney Liltz was 28. We know she liked to play with toys and watch cartoons. We know she liked to be told she was pretty. She was described as a very happy person. She had cerebral palsy. Her mother murdered her last year.

Here are some quotes that the papers included, when they were writing about Courtney’s murder. A friend of Courtney’s mother said, “I don’t believe in breaking the law, but I do believe there’s a desperation point that people reach.” She said Courtney’s mother “deserves an award for the years of sacrifice she gave for her daughter. She is not a murderer.”

Courtney’s mother’s lawyer said that Courtney had been “cast off by society” and that “no one else wanted” her. He said, “There was no one else in the world that would have cared for Courtney the way that [her killer] did.” He said Courtney’s mother had received an outpouring of support and sympathy after murdering her daughter, with friends and strangers alike calling her an incredible woman, an exemplary caregiver, and offering to pay her bail.

What did people say about Courtney? What support did she receive? Here’s a quote that the defense attorney gave to the papers, in defense of her murderer: “There’s been no call for justice for Courtney.”

I believe all our lives have value. I believe that murder is wrong. I sit down to write and I feel empty and I have no more words.

There are only so many ways to say this. Murder is wrong. Sometimes, when the victim is disabled, people don’t notice that.

And I get anxious, I get freaked out trying to create the perfect rhetoric to convince the skeptical that murder is wrong. The perfect sentence. The perfect analogy. But we are struggling against a very strong current of ableism and it’s hard to get people to let go of ideas. That’s why we’re still reading about how Courtney’s murderer deserves a medal. That’s why all I know about Ahziya is that he was happy when he was wearing the plastic fireman hat.

The people we have lost were amazing. They were beautiful. We don’t know enough about them. And all too often, they are not mourned.

In the run up to this vigil, some people were asking why we read the entire list every year. The reason is that for some of the people whose names are on this list, the vigils may be the only time when their deaths are mourned. We are trying to provide each of these people with the kind of loving remembrance that they deserve.

I believe that the dead should be mourned. I was raised with a certain idea of mourning. I was raised to light candles every year on the anniversary of a death. I was taught that every year, the dead should be celebrated by their community. This is one of the things that has been taken away from many of the people whose names we will read today.

We are here to give it back to them.

We are making sure that their memorial continues into the future – that they are not forgotten. We believe they deserve that. And who will provide it, if we don’t?

I believe we should say their names.

Here’s another reason: murder is wrong. And people are going to have to learn that these murders are wrong in the same way they first learned to excuse them. By hearing it again and again. By living in a culture that creates that belief. We are working to build that culture.

We begin with the idea that the people we have lost deserved to live. That their lives had value. That they are missed. We begin with the idea that the people we have lost were people. And that starts right here, with reading their names.

Every year I think that I have no words and then I read about the people we have lost. They should still be with us today.

There are only so many ways to say this. But we will find all of them. We will make new ways. And in doing this, we will repeat ourselves. Because that’s how people learn. Because that’s how a culture is changed. Because we are autistic and we repeat ourselves. And because that’s how mourning works.

I believe everyone should be loved. I believe everyone should be safe. I believe all our lives have value. I believe murder is wrong. I believe the dead should be mourned. I believe we should say their names.

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