In a letter published today at Philly.com, CeaseFirePennsylvania’s Shira Goodman and Nicholas Ramsey describe the importance of the gun violence prevention group’s Courtwatch program, which enables the members of communities affected by gun crimes to have their voices heard in court.

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“When judges impose sentences, they are required to consider the impact of the crime on the community. But, for too long, the only folks present in the courtroom to testify were there to support defendants. Without the countervailing weight of the community affected by illegal guns, the balance was tilted against the community,” Ramsey and Goodman write.

Community members’ testimony during sentencing hearings related to charges of illegal gun possession or gun trafficking provide[s] “evidence of the impact of these crimes on the community and communicate to the judges that no gun crimes are victimless. Even when a gun is not fired, having illegal guns in our neighborhoods affects our ability to live freely and safely.”

Testifying in court is no easy task, but it is a necessary and effective tool in the fight against gun violence. CeaseFirePA’s Courtwatch program has existed in Philadelphia for three years, and this year, it has also been implemented in Allegheny County.

“CeaseFirePA is committed to helping any community that wants to be part of this program to feel prepared, supported and empowered [. . .] Standing up in court and demonstrating to police, prosecutors, judges and defendants that we will not be silent in the face of the gun violence terrorizing our neighborhoods is a critical step forward in taking back our communities.”