It was a spirit of defiance, coupled with shock, grief and anger that led residents, community leaders and elected officials to gather Monday evening at Brownsville Recreation Center where just two days prior a nearby shooting killed one and left 11 injured.
Two suspects opened fire Saturday night at a playground near Christopher and Hegeman avenues where hundreds of residents just had wrapped up the Brownsville Old Timers Reunion Night block party, a decades-old community celebration.
The march was organized by the Brownsville Rapid Response Coalition, a collective of local community organizations and institutions, anti-violence groups, faith-based communities, lawmakers and city departments, that formed in the wake of the shooting. Hundreds came out to demonstrate that Saturday’s tragic incident cannot be normalized or reduced to just another shooting.
“For those of us who have been doing community work, we know that violence is a disease,” said Andre Mitchell of Man Up! Inc, an East New York-based community organization. “It’s abnormal. It is not normal for anybody to pull out a gun and shoot in a crowd of innocent, unarmed people. It is not something our babies, women, elders and people in our community should ever see as being normal.”
Organizers said the march’s aim was to show solidarity with a community in need of healing and to get people actively involved in addressing future acts of violence in the neighborhood.
Brownsville resident Tyisha Eason joined the march to support her community and to show that there is a different story to her neighborhood, one that too often is overshadowed by the media’s focus on crime and violence, she said.
“I am here to stand in unity and solidarity with my community,” said Eason. “I want to be part of the change, and I want to show the media and the world that this is what Brownsville is truly about. Brownsville is not about the mass shooting that took place on Saturday, but it’s about family, unity and community.”
As marchers walked in a loop up Rockaway Avenue via Pitkin Avenue and back down Mother Gaston Boulevard, they chanted “Brownsville in, violence out,” “Stop shooting,” and “We walk these streets to keep you safe,” encouraging onlookers to join them.
Councilmember Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who was at the OldTimers Day celebration when the shooting happened, said she feels hurt and traumatized, and urged the community to come together.
“It’s hard out here in Brownsville,” said Ampry-Samuel. “And I feel sick to my stomach, because we work so hard to get funding for all of these events and organizations out here. We’re fighting in City Hall, we’re fighting in Albany —we don’t need to be fighting in the streets.”
Earlier that day, Assemblywoman Latrice Walker had sent a letter to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, urging them to declare Saturday’s incident a mass shooting. This would “trigger access to vital programs which would include emergency relief, crisis response efforts, training and technical assistance for the benefit of the victims and communities affected by mass violence,” she wrote.
“Even though the mayor has said this is not a mass shooting, we know this was a mass shooting,” said Walker to the crowd on Monday. “I have never seen 12 people shot in Brownsville at one time. There are critical resources that we are not getting because the governor and the mayor have not declared this as a mass shooting.”
Anti-violance organizations from all over the city joined the march. Jahmon Cox, a 19-year-old youth member of Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes Inc., came from Queens to show his support. He sees violence as a disease that organizations like his try to cure with initiatives and mentorship programs, specfically in communities ravaged by gun violence and gang activity. He said, one needs to understand the underlying causes to address the problem.
“Violence among one another shouldn’t really take place,” said Cox. “We believe that violence is an illness that can be cured. But cops can’t just come in with guns and think that that’s going to stop the problem; that just adds fuel to the fire. To stop gun violence, we have to make peace with ourselves first.”
Community models such as the city’s Crisis Management System, a network of mediators who connect high-risk individuals to services that can reduce the long-term risk of violence, and Cure Violence, a model that tackles violence as a health crisis, have proven to be greatly successful. Statistics show that neighborhoods where these models were implemented saw a greater drop in homicide rates and gun crimes than other areas.
“If policing alone could solve this problem, it would have been solved already,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “The police department is a multi-billion dollar agency. The organizations here haven’t even cracked $40 million. To all the people who have their hands on the purse: ‘Get some money to these community groups.’ It has been proven that these nonprofits, when fully-funded, solve problems better than the government.”
Meanwhile, the two suspects of Saturday’s shooting remain unidentified. The NYPD urges the public to come forward with any information and announced on Wednesday a $10,000 reward for tips leading to arrests and convictions.
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