Nearly 300 relatives of murder victims crammed into the Houston Crime Stoppers headquarters on Sunday night for a national day of remembrance event that included tears, prayers and anger.

“We have too many offenders killing here,” said Marnita Hinton, whose son Christophe Mena was shot in the head and robbed while sleeping in his Jeep in a Walgreens parking lot in November 2020.

Family members held up photographs and shared often tearful stories of murdered loved ones, encouraging each other to pray. The victims pictured range in age from five to 83, and while some families have reported that a suspect has been arrested and convicted, for Hinton and many others, their cases remain unsolved.

For some families, the arrest and charging of suspects brought the shocking realization that the alleged killers were already on bail for violent crimes in Harris County.

Lourdes Medina described how suspects robbed and ran over her mother, Martha Medina, 71, last year. One of three suspects arrested and charged, Andre Williamshad $150,000 bond for a capital murder charge when he allegedly participated in Medina’s murder.

Despite allegations that Williams had repeatedly violated his bail conditions, Judge Hilary Unger refused to revoke bail until he was re-arrested and charged with killing Medina.

“The crime has always existed, but I have seen a huge difference since these judges have been in office,” Medina said.

Harris County has seen a significant increase in crime in recent years. Last year, the medical examiner’s office reported 720 homicidesup from 436 in 2018. Although at previous National Day of Remembrance events Houston Crime Stoppers staffers have read aloud the names of murder victims from the previous year, this year the Victims lawyer Andy Kahan said there were too many to name.

Many in the community have correlated the increase in crime to the 2018 election of progressive criminal court judges and county judge Lina Hidalgo, who oversaw the settlement of a federal bail trial which largely governs misdemeanor bail policy in the county.

Several elected officials were on hand to listen to the families, including U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) who surprised attendees by referencing bail practices in Harris County.

“If you have a violent criminal [and] you know he or she has a propensity for violence, why did they come out? asked Lee, who said she worked to get $100 million for the Houston Police Department to help fight crime.

Hinton thanked Lee for his efforts, but added, “The police put them in jail, but the judges let them out. We see the same thing over and over again, but what are we going to do about it? How are we going to solve this problem? »

A father in the audience shouted, “Vote for them! eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd.

Several other local elected officials attended the event, including State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) and State Representatives Ann Johnson (D-Houston) and Lacey Hull (R-Houston).

Neither Hidalgo nor Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner showed up, but County Commissioners Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) and Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) spoke alongside District Attorney Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. Houston City Council members Mike Knox, Mary Nan Huffman and Sallie Alcorn delivered brief remarks. Republican candidate for county judge Alexandra del Moral Mealer attended but did not speak.

Some family members of the victims thanked the elected officials present, but also referred to politicians invited but absent.

Homicide survivor Jessica Gaehring showed a photo of her fiancé who was stabbed to death in 2019, saying she sees the same elected officials at every crime event and adding: ‘When you vote, remember who you see here and who is not there.”

April Aguirre, aunt of nine-year-old Arlene Alvarez who was shot and killed last year, specifically criticized Hidalgo and county commissioners Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) and Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) for their absence.

Knox, whose son Jason perished in a 2020 Houston Police Department helicopter crash, sympathized with the grieving families and drew thunderous applause when he criticized the millions spent by the county on “fight crime through environmental design.”

“Bike lanes, landscaping and lighting are not law enforcement,” Knox said. “We need our county officials, we need our municipal officials, we need our sheriff and our police departments to start being able to use what they know how to do.”

The mother of a five-year-old girl shot dead last year has blamed local authorities for not funding police enough, but also expressed anger at the state law allowing individuals to carry handguns without permit.

Public safety is listed as a top issue for Harris County voters this year. On the National Day of Remembrance, several families joined the Stop the Houston Murders political action committee promoting new judges in criminal court for Harris County.