AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hundreds of crime survivors and the families of crime victims rallied at the Texas Capitol Thursday afternoon to advocate for increased victim support and reforms that are meant to break the cycle of crime.
“Communities most harmed by violence need support to heal and feel safe again,” said Terra Tucker, the Texas director for the Alliance for Safety and Justice.
The crowd – which included survivors of sexual assault and family and gun violence, as well as parents of children lost to violence – gathered in the Capitol rotunda.
Aswad Thomas, vice president of Alliance for Safety and Justice and the national director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, spoke at the event.
We are here to “ensure our voices are at the center of public safety policies,” said Thomas, a survivor of gun violence himself.
What the group is calling for
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice are demanding lawmakers fund the state’s first trauma recovery center. Some of these centers are operational across the country, and the group said it is a proven model to help victims heal in the wake of a crime.
“That’s why hundreds of Texas crime survivors will rally at the Capitol today and urge elected officials to invest in solutions that prioritize recovery as well as redemption to improve our collective safety,” Tucker said.
The group is also calling on lawmakers to tackle the root causes of crime. It is demanding the improvement of the state’s probation system and to support record sealing for low-level criminals so they can get a job, and not fall back into a life of crime.
In addition, the group is advocating for legislation that would expand access to, and funds available from, the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund.
Crime Victims’ Compensation
The Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund is operated by the Office of Attorney General. It’s intended to provide money to help rebuild crime victims’ lives. The funds can be used to help relocate, pay hospital bills and recoup lost wages, among many other things. KXAN foundteh division administering the fund has a high turnover and vacancies and has struggled to get funds out quickly, according to internal records obtained by KXAN and interviews with multiple staff members.
Jill Henderson said she knows first hand how tough it can be to get money from the Compensation Fund. Henderson’s son, 22-year-old Bakari Henderson, was killed while vacationing in Greece in 2017.
She said she believes the Compensation Fund division should get more money to improve its services. The process to try to get funds was antiquated and difficult to navigate, she said. Bakari said she had to keep meticulous records and receipts, send everything in by mail and then didn’t get any communication back.
You “wait months and months to get any type of compensation,” she said.
Henderson said she’s advocating for bills that would improve and expand aspects of the Compensation Fund, including SB 49 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and HB 250 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint.
Those bills would increase the amount of money for relocation and bereavement leave, and it would expand who is classified as an family member to improve access to certain benefits, among other things.
Who will be there
The rally began at noon in the Capitol rotunda. There was a vigil for the late victims followed by a news conference with survivors and lawmakers.
Editor’s note: a previous version of this story noted that the organization said that Congressman Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) would attend today’s rally. The Congressman’s Chief of Staff told us that Gonzales will not be there because he is in Washington, D.C. today.