Purple glow sticks and purple and white balloons guided the way around 225 members of the community processed from Columbia High School to the middle school in a “walk for peace” on Thursday.
The walk was followed by guest speakers and presentations at the middle school to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence in the community as part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which takes place in October.
Speakers included State Rep. Jerry Costello II, Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson, Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards and representatives from the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois.
Darlene Jones, executive director of the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois, stressed the importance of identifying what domestic violence is in order to make a change in the future.
“Last year, we served almost 1,800 individual clients and had over 8,000 hotline calls,” she said. “That says that domestic violence is out there and is very real. Domestic violence thrives on silence, but everyone here is speaking volumes.”
Costello began his presentation on domestic laws and funding by identifying some shocking statistics about domestic violence.
“Three out of every four Americans know someone personally who has been domestically abused,” he said. “Domestic violence is often excused or denied because it isn’t always physical.”
Costello outlined different kinds of domestic abuse, and informed attendees of the current laws he is pushing for in the state legislature.
Chief Edwards’ presentation used examples from his experiences to bring domestic violence closer to home.
“During my 20-year career at the Columbia Police Department, domestic violence and violent crimes have increased greatly, along with the way we handle them,” he said. “In my early years as a police officer, domestic violence crimes were looked at as a private, family or personal matter, not a criminal matter.”
He detailed how the reports were filed then, along with how they are filed in a much more in-depth way now.
“I have had to oversee the murder investigation of four of our Columbia residents,” Edwards said. “All four of these senseless and preventable murders have been related to domestic violence.”
Edwards displayed photographs of Sheri, Gavin and Garett Coleman, who were murdered in 2009, along with 17-year-old Erin Schneider, who was murdered this summer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have to do better than what we’ve been doing over the past few years,” Edwards said. “We have to become more involved with our families, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.”
Representatives from the CHS Student Council came forward during Edwards’ presentation with a check for $1,000 to be donated to the Violence Prevention Center in Schneider’s honor.
The presentation ended on a positive note, as Mudd presented Monroe County Peacekeeper Awards to law enforcement officers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in handling domestic violence.
Awards were presented to Larry Chausse, Jim Lansing and Bruce Whipple of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department; Scott Spencer of the Waterloo Police Department; and Jared Reddick of the Columbia Police Department.
“All of these officers have played such an important role in the victims’ journey,” Mudd said.
The evening concluded with an interfaith closing prayer, in which attendees prayed for peace and an end to domestic violence worldwide.
For more information on the Violence Prevention Center in Monroe County, call 939-8114.