A mother brings her son to get shot by a vigilante group - how can it happen? That question, and others, hasprompted the setting up of MOVE ON, Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere in Our Neighbourhoods. One of its members, Karen Mullen of the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum, tells the story.
One night there was a noticeable police presence was in the Creggan and Bogside areas and there was a palpable sense of tension in the community. We did not really know at the time what exactly was going on, but we knew something was up.
It became apparent, through the reliable community grapevine, that a number of parents were expected to present their sons at a specific location to be shot by RAAD, and if they refused their children would be blasted with shotguns.
So the message was really simple – bring your wains to be brutalised or we will brutalise them even worse.
What a decision for any parent to ponder?
The grapevine told us that some of the parents attempted through mediators and other means to appeal to RAAD that this was an unreasonable position and could this not be sorted out in some other way. They were told ‘no’. Faced with the decision to allow their children to be brutalised with shotguns or present them to be shot, in the interest of their children’s safety, and their own, they decided on the lesser of two evils.
We can only begin to imagine what thoughts and considerations were going through their heads. They most likely in the end felt powerless, isolated, let down and with little choice and in the interests of their child’s safety made their choice.
Unfortunately this situation is now becoming a weekly occurrence.
That began a thought process and conversation for us all. What if it was my son? What would I have done? Many if not most of us as mothers had the same answer – They would have to shoot us first! But such talk as they say is cheap when you are not faced in reality with such choices. We also wondered: What sort of person or people is it that ‘offers’ such choices to mothers and fathers? What choice would they offer their own child in similar circumstances? It was with these thoughts in mind, and the most dominant thought of a mother expected to deliver her son by appointment to be shot, that provoked a small number of us mothers to move from ‘What would we do?’ to talking about what SHOULD we do – we felt that we just had to do something!
Within a few hours we had organised a rally at Central Drive in Creggan. Around 150 of us mothers on the Friday before Mother’s Day held a vigil and released white balloons into the Derry sky, all of this in reaction to and in opposition of violence against young people in our communities.
In our discussions with many mothers through out those few days and weeks, the stories which were being recounted by many silent and terrified mothers were nothing short of scandalous.
Mothers, in almost hushed tones, who told of their sons being interrogated by RAAD, of being left for a decision to be made about their son’s fate, of messages then being sent through third parties that RAAD believed their sons to be lying. Then of their sons being expelled, or threatened with violence or with being interrogated again.
Other stories. Mothers who did not wish to use intermediaries but wanted to talk direct to RAAD being told no. Mothers whose sons got leniency if they publicly announced that they engaged in drug use and dealing and had to specifically include praise for RAAD and their ‘expertise’ and ‘intelligence’.
After these events we decided that it was not enough to react in anger after such incidents, but we needed to organise as mothers to do what we could at grassroots level to prevent such actions and offer support to other isolated mothers who have lived this nightmare. MOVE ON [Mothers Opposed to Violence Everywhere in Our Neighbourhoods] was created.
MOVE ON has since carried out a number of engagements with young people whilst out walking at night times to find out their views and talk to them about behaviours and dangers. MOVE ON has met with a number of community organisations to discuss services around young people and addictions, and we have asked at the Triax Community Safety Forum for the Youth providers to carry out a focussed discussion with young people around alcohol and drugs and the impact on them of physical violence or threats from groups like RAAD. In many instances the voice of the young people can be missing in such incidents.
MOVE ON is not simply anti-RAAD no more than we are defenders of drug dealers or those engaged in anti-community activities. MOVE ON is about allowing our community - which has suffered the worst of the conflict and all the legacies of that conflict such as health, education, employment and poverty inequalities - to move on together to deal with these issues, challenge those who need be challenged for tackling these issues, and build a community which is safe, prosperous and has a future.
None of these issues can be tackled with violence. No mother or young person should be giving such option or be the victim of such actions. The armed groups should have the intelligence to recognise these facts, and the courage to disband and allow us all to MOVE ON. Until then we mothers oppose violence everywhere in our neighbourhoods by whatever quarter. We will offer support to all mothers facing the threat of violence to their children. We will play whatever positive role we can in improving the chances for our community for the future.
We invite all women and mothers to join with us to do the same.