Homestead - South Dade

She lost her son to gun violence. She’s determined to stop the shootings.

Teens carry a Mothers Fighting for Justice banner during the fourth annual Walk for Justice, held Saturday, July 21, 2018, in Goulds.
Teens carry a Mothers Fighting for Justice banner during the fourth annual Walk for Justice, held Saturday, July 21, 2018, in Goulds.

A teenager hanging out on the stairway of his apartment with his sister and friends.

A boy skipping down the street to a convenience store for candy.

These children have one thing in common: They were all killed by a stray bullet.

On Saturday, they and others were honored by parents, politicians and students who marched in the fourth annual Walk for Justice in Gould in southwest Miami-Dade.

“I march for the mothers who couldn’t be here today, as well as all kids who have been lost to gun violence,” said Romania Dukes, 46, whose 18-year-old son, De’Michael Dukes, was shot by a stray bullet on July 21, 2014.

De’Michael, 18, was hanging out with his little sister and friends on the top of the staircase at the Cutler Manor Apartments, listening to music he produced himself when the shooting happened. A boy and his friends were feuding with another boy in the stairwell. The boy drew his gun and started shooting; one of the bullets hit De’Michael.

By the time Dukes opened her apartment door, smoke filled the stairwell. The first thing she saw was his Nike shoes. As the smoke cleared, Romania saw he had fallen on his back. He couldn’t speak — he could only shake his head.

Dukes hasn’t learned more about his murder because no one would “snitch” to the police.

To cope, she started Mothers Fighting for Justice, an organization that helps mothers who’ve lost children to gun violence.

The organization educates youth on the dangers of gun violence, builds respect between law enforcement and Miami residents to help solve crimes, and partners with politicians and community leaders to create programs that help reduce crime among youth.

The group ended their march at Goulds Park Recreation Center, where different groups convened to address the issues. Among those in attendance: New Florida Majority, United Teachers of Dade, Moms Demand Action, the Florida Black Caucus, as well as politicians running for office.

A common theme in their remarks: Vote in the Aug. 28 primary election.

“I am committed 100 percent to fighting this. It takes a certain number of us [representatives] who aren’t in the pockets of the NRA to make change,” said state Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami. Taddeo, who won in a special election last year after former state rep. Frank Artiles was forced to resign over racial remarks in a Tallahassee bar, is running for reelection against Marili Cancio, a Republican.

Other parents who have lost their children to gun violence came to support Dukes, including Santonio and Monica Carter. Their 6-year-old son, King Carter, was shot in the chest in February 2016 by a stray bullet outside his Liberty City apartment while he was on his way to buy candy.

“It doesn’t matter how the child went, whether they were in the wrong or the right,” said Monica Carter, 31. “We have to demand action. This means a lot. When the politicians go home, they don’t see what we see. What we see is our children getting shot.”

No matter who is elected, the Goulds community will hold them accountable to help end gun violence, said Denzel Burnside, minister and manager for Taddeo’s reelection campaign.

Joe Demps, president of the Greater Goulds Optimist Club, told the story of a boy slapping his girlfriend with a handgun when she tried to break up with him. Their ages — 12 and 13 — shocked the room.

Demps told the story to talk about how guns are being stashed and sold by Goulds residents.

“If you see something, say something,” he said.

Just when the day was coming to an end with a group prayer, balloon release, barbecue and bounce house, shots were heard from the apartment complex across the street. It was 6:30 p.m.

Dukes was disappointed.

“I can’t believe that they’d do this on a day like this, when we try to talk about the gun violence in the community,” she said.

But she’s not giving up.

“I’ll be hosting a back-to-school event where we’re not just giving out book bags,” Dukes said. “While the kids are playing, we’re also going to be teaching the parents about different resources that they don’t know about.”