By Holly Penta
District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington and Victim Assistance Coordinator Alice Hardison held “Honoring Our Past: Creating Hope for the Future” April 12 at the courthouse in honor of National Crimes Victims’ Rights Week. This week supports living victims of crime and to remembes those who have died due to violent crimes. Although Harrington could not be there, he sent 1st Assistant Cloyd Benjamin in his place and sent his regards. Benjamin welcomed everyone. Pastor Ellis Newman from the River Community Church led the crowd in prayer, and Megan Berry sang to begin the ceremony. Melissa Murry, a probation and parole officer, along with the help of local victims, led a candle lighting ceremony in honor of all victims.
The state of Louisiana helps over 1,900 victims yearly and the City Court of Natchitoches and other city officials frequently go to Baton Rouge to help ensure that the laws protect the rights of victims. As Benjamin said, they “lobby for the good bills and protest the bad bills.”
Eugene Wilson spoke about his experience in the local anger management program. Before he was angry and did not know how to properly handle it, but the program changed the direction of his life. He was incredibly “grateful and thankful” for all the help he was given.
Melinda Newman spoke about her experience being a victim of crime. On June 26, 2005, her house was broken into and her son and husband were both shot. Her husband did not survive. This event completely changed her life. For 771 days the police were unable to identify the offender, but on what would have been her and her husband’s 19-year anniversary she was finally given identity of the intruder.
Since then, she has participated in many programs designed to help victims including the Victim-Offender Dialogue, which allowed her to meet the man who killed her husband and discuss that night. This helped her to forgive him and find some peace. She says that although her journey as a victim is not over, and even though she and anyone else affected by crime will “always be a victim,” that “how you handle it is on you.” She credits the victim advocacy programs and her relationship with God as being huge help in her recovery process.
Mayor Lee Posey expressed his appreciation for law enforcement and spoke about a new proclamation about the National Crimes Victims’ Rights Week that the city has signed. This year it is observed from April 7-13. Sheriff Victor Jones, Chief of Police Mickey Dove, Chief Deputy Corner Steven Clanton, and Representative Kenny Cox all spoke about how their respective agencies help victims.
Clanton said, “If you see something, call us.” He said that everyone can help law enforcement make the city a safer place.
They all communicated that victims’ rights were some of their top priorities and that they would do everything they can do help. As Benjamin said, “Remember, if you have a problem as a victim, call us. We’re there to help throughout the entire process.”