Crime is a perennial political football, discussed on the campaign trail usually in terms of how harshly it should be punished. Voters describe how much they fear it. Candidates describe how tough they will be in stopping it.
But some of the millions of people who have actually experienced it feel lost in the debate.
A nonpartisan group of them, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, will announce a campaign on Thursday to persuade 100,000 crime survivors who have not previously voted to cast ballots in the midterm elections. The effort — part of a multiyear, multimillion-dollar push by the group to increase turnout — will be national but will focus primarily on a subset of states, including Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, where there are competitive elections and the group has existing infrastructure.
“We don’t want legislators creating laws for us without including our voices,” said Priscilla Bordayo, 37, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the Michigan manager of the crime survivors’ group, which is nonprofit. “We know best what we want and what we need in order to heal.”
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice — part of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a group that advocates criminal justice reform — does not endorse candidates. It has tens of thousands of members, and their priorities and views vary, but, broadly, it promotes prevention and rehabilitation while opposing mass incarceration.
The voter encouragement by the crime survivors’ group follows a campaign it ran in 2020, when it also aimed to turn out 100,000 crime survivors. This year, the goal is to turn out 100,000 new voters, a more difficult task in a midterm election year, when fewer people typically vote.
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Two years ago, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the group focused on calling potential voters. This year, it plans to organize in person in communities with large numbers of crime survivors. The campaign will involve town-hall-style events, voter education and practical help with tasks like registration.
Its national director, Aswad Thomas, planned to play professional basketball before he was shot in 2009, which ended his athletic career. He said that he had lost more than 40 friends to gun violence and that his opposition to “tough on crime” policies had been informed by the discovery that his assailant was also a victim of gun violence.
“I strongly believe his unaddressed trauma played a huge role with me being shot,” said Mr. Thomas, 39.
Members of the group have lobbied legislators to fund trauma recovery centers and community-based violence intervention and to increase victim services. In some places, they have also promoted health care and housing assistance in an effort to address the social and economic instability that can lead to crime.
“Part of my healing is helping other crime survivors so they can get the support that they need and get things that were not available to me at the time,” said Pearl Wise, 58, a chapter coordinator in York, Pa., whose son Chad Merrill was fatally shot in 2018. Ms. Wise and her husband are raising Mr. Merrill’s son, Layton, who was an infant when his father was killed.
Before her son’s death, Ms. Wise said, she had never voted and did not follow the news. But afterward, she said, she was invited to a gathering of crime survivors in California and was inspired by their descriptions of pushing for legislation. It was the first time she felt she could make a meaningful difference by participating in politics.
She registered to vote and cast her first ballot for Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020. Then, she began lobbying Pennsylvania lawmakers to extend to five years from two the amount of time survivors have to apply for compensation.
Legislation containing that provision passed this summer.
Asianay Jackson of Pontiac, Mich., lost her father to gun violence when she was 3 and said that connecting with other survivors in recent years, through a grief support group and the crime survivors’ group, showed her that the killing had affected her more than she realized. She said the most important issues to her were gun violence and police brutality, that she supported the Black Lives Matter movement and that she wanted to push for stricter gun laws, including age restrictions on weapons like AR-15s.
Ms. Jackson, 18, is newly eligible to vote and plans to do so, but has not yet decided which candidates to support.