Sophie Sonnenfeld, New Haven Independent
Drizzly raindrops trickled down the leaves and were soaked up by the roots of an American chestnut tree that now stands in Fair Haven’s Quinnipiac River Park for victims of domestic violence.
The tree was dedicated as a symbol to call attention to domestic violence amid a gentle rain on Monday afternoon.
Leaders and volunteers of the Hope Family Justice Center (HFJC), who organized the dedication, tied purple ribbons and balloons around the tree trunk and placed signs with inspirational quotes in the grass below. The color purple represents support for victims of domestic violence.
“As we stand today in solidarity to commemorate the lives lost to domestic violence homicides, the most important thing we can do is radiate hope and love to those who are in pain,” said the site manage for New Haven’s BH Care Hope Family Justice Center, Paola Serrecchia.
Serrecchia said it’s important to believe and listen to domestic violence survivors and respond to those hurting.
She said that nationwide, 15 percent of all violent crimes involve domestic violence. Between April 2020 and June 2021, the number of domestic violence victims increased by 75 percent in Connecticut, she added.
The newly dedicated tree commemorates the lives of two women, Alessia Mesquita and Dwaneia Alexandria Turner, who were raised in Fair Haven and killed in incidents of domestic violence within days of each other this March.
“We hope you will return to this tree to find peace and hope. This tree serves as a reminder to us that hope grows during the most difficult times,” said Serrecchia.
Painted purple rocks with patterns and words of support were piled at the base of the tree.
The rocks were designed by staff, children, friends, and families involved with HFJC. Serrecchia said the rocks were placed at the base of the tree to be passed along “to those in need of a piece of hope.”
Serrecchia also said that HFJC is now planning to hold community roundtables. She said the goal of these roundtables will be to “develop realistic strategies to create safety and engage one another to act. As this tree continues to stand strong in its roots we hope that our community can heal through the power of love.
Serrecchia said she hopes the monument will remind any people suffering from abuse that “we are here with you and here for you.”
Mayor Justin Elicker referenced a planned new crisis response team and Department of Community Resilience as city initiatives to reduce the number of domestic violence incidents in the city and support victims.
The crisis response team will respond to public safety issues and 911 calls that may not merit a police response, while the Department of Community Resilience will combine reentry, mental health harm reduction, crisis response team, and homelessness services.
“These partnerships ensure that it’s not just law enforcement that responds to things but we provide resources that address the roots of the problem. That is key to us uplifting people and in particular, responding to people that are most vulnerable,” said Elicker.
Assistant New Haven Police Chief Karl JacobsonJacobson said law enforcement has come a long way in helping survivors and victims of domestic violence through the years, “but we have to do more.”
Jacobson said that hope doesn’t grow without love and trust. “In this time in our country, there’s not a lot of love and trust with the police department. But we want to grow that love and trust back. We want to do everything possible to help the survivors of domestic violence.”
Claudette Kidd attended the event with Mothers and Others for Justice. She said she would like to see progress to protect against domestic violence with gun legislation.
“The amount of people that we’re losing to gun violence now since Covid is ridiculous. It’s nonstop and I just hope that organizations and the mayor’s office can work things out. Engage the community in their meetings, and hear what those who have lost someone have to say, who really know what to say, and see how we can bring about change,” Kidd said.
Kidd said the tree is a meaningful spot now “for someone who is suffering, lost someone, or just wants to sit down and think. This is a nice place to come and be.”
Merryl Eaton, who works with Mothers and Others for Justice as director of advocacy & education at Christian Community Action, said the tree is important for victims and the community: “It reverberates through the community and it impacts them. People are living in fear. There are many many solutions and certainly one of them is strong legislation so that there are safe gun laws.”
“Domestic violence doesn’t just impact the people we serve, it impacts the entire community. I think it’s really important that the community has a space to gather,” said Jess Holman, coordinator of community education for the Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services.
Holman said she hopes the tree will raise awareness about prevention and available confidential services.
The number-one priority for Holman is “working upstream to equip young people with skills, tools, and information that they need to build healthy, respectful relationships so that we never need crisis intervention services and emergency shelters.”