Stop the Violence and Mental Illness Rally to be held Saturday

Published 2:12 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The 9th annual Stop the Violence and Mental Illness Rally will be held on Saturday, April 23 at the Vicksburg City Pavilion at noon.

The rally is being presented by Martha Thomas. Thomas said she is hoping to raise awareness about the tools and services that are available to address difficult circumstances before they result in violence.

“I just want to do what I can,” Thomas said.

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Thomas said she is motivated by personal experience, being herself a victim of domestic violence. She was inspired to become involved in the community by her mother, who was active in a neighborhood watch program when Thomas was growing up.

As a bail bondsman by trade, Thomas said she has seen many young people go to jail. She wants young people to know about the different channels they can go through to get help before ending up in a violent situation and a courtroom.

“I get out here because I want them to know that (they) don’t have to do these things,” Thomas said.

The rally will have a lineup of high-profile guest speakers, including Mayor George Flaggs, VPD Chief Penny Jones, and VFD Deputy Chief Derrick.

While this is the 9th year Thomas has hosted the rally, it is the first year where she has included a focus on mental illness. She said she decided to include it when someone close to her began dealing personally with mental illness and witnessed the pain it can bring when not addressed.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Stacy Flowers will also be speaking at the event. She is the owner and operator of NuLife Health Care, which currently contracts with the City of Vicksburg to provide mental health services and awareness for city employees including VPD and VFD employees.

According to Flowers, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded stresses for people throughout the community, which in some cases has resulted in a rise in violence.

“Post-COVID, according to statistics, there has been an increase in gun violence, suicides, and domestic abuse,” Flowers said. “The key is being able to recognize the signs and symptoms when (that stress or anxiety) is no longer a normal process or when it is affecting your normal state of being.”

Flowers said her goals for the rally include educating people about mental health, how they can receive mental health treatment as well as reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

“I always use this slogan: ‘It’s okay not to be okay,’” she said. “But knowing how to respond to it, knowing that there is a resource out there, and knowing what to do to receive help is very important.”

Flowers also said she wanted to address certain facts and myths regarding mental illness, including the inaccurate assumption that people with mental illness are violent and unpredictable. She stressed that a diagnosis on its own cannot determine who is likely to commit a violent act.

“In fact, people with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than the general population,” Flowers said.

Municipal Court Judge Angela Carpenter will be the MC for the event. She has been participating in the annual rallies since she became a judge in 2018.

“(Thomas) is an example of what happens when you have someone who is concerned about their community, and not only concerned but they want to do something about it,” Carpenter said. “We’re thankful to have her.”

Carpenter said she has seen a rise in teenagers and young adults being arrested on violent crime charges. She has also seen a rise in the number of defendants with a “dual diagnosis” consisting of both a mental health issue and drug addiction.

“I think, not only the court system, but society as a whole is slowly coming to the realization that this is real,” she said. “Mental illness is a real disease… it’s not something that we should take lightly. People need help.”