Brooklyn residents woke up last Thursday morning to news of yet another night of gun violence.

There were at least nine shootings citywide from which three people died. At least six of the incidents happened in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, East Flatbush and Gravesend.

Homicides and shootings skyrocketed in 2020, with no end in sight, as recent NYPD crime data suggests. Part of the City’s solution is the Cure Violence Expansion program, which pairs grassroots anti-gun violence organizations with local police precincts.

On Friday, Elite Learners, an anti-gun violence and community development organization, hosted a block party on Hawthorne Street to celebrate the opening of its site at 581 Rogers Avenue. The organization, which has offices in Brownsville and East Flatbush, will work alongside the 71st Precinct to help stem violence in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

Elite Learners ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo: Nigel Roberts

Elected officials, residents and community leaders gathered outside the office for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and to welcome the Brownsville-based organization to the neighborhood.

“This is the community’s center,” Elite Learners’ Executive Director Camara Jackson said at the ceremony. “We are coming here with jobs, programs, senior activities, youth engagement, making sure our families are whole and have the tools and resources to be successful.

“Let’s come to the table to mediate conflict, sit down and work it out,” Jackson added.

Block party on Hawthorne Street. Photo: Nigel Roberts

The organization achieves one of its core missions through its violence interrupter program, which includes patrolling high-crime areas and mentoring youth gang members.

The Cure Violence model uses various interventions, such as identifying and working with high-risk individuals, to prevent violent conflicts. It also seeks to reduce police involvement in high-crime Black and Hispanic communities whenever possible.

Residents of those neighborhoods want NYPD protection, but not the biased policing and heavy-handed tactics the cops often use. NYPD internal investigations have frequently ignored those complaints, according to a June 2019 Department of Investigation report.

Jackson plans to build a relationship with the 71st Precinct that’s based on “mutual respect.”

“By mutual respect, I mean that they understand what we do and how we go about our work. And we understand their job,” she told BK Reader. “If there’s anything we can do to prevent crime, such as de-escalate any type of situation, we are going to do that without calling the police. If there’s an incident, like a shooting, we’re going to step aside and let the 71st precinct do its job.”

Jackson underscored that Elite Learners “prevents gun violence in a different way from the NYPD.”

Sen. Zellnor Myrie delivers remarks at ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo: Nigel Roberts

The organization delivers resources, including mental health and reintegration assistance to formerly incarcerated individuals.

Preventing illegal guns from flooding the neighborhood is another key component to the solution, said Sen. Zellnor Myrie, whose 20th Senate District includes parts of PLG.

He spearheaded a gun control bill this year that would allow civil liability lawsuits against gun makers and dealers who negligently allow their weapons to end up on New York streets.

“The guns that are used in this community don’t come from here,” Myrie told BK Reader. “My hope is that bad actors in the gun industry will get their act together. The hope is that they will stem the flow of illegal guns.”

The bill, part of a larger gun control legislative package, now sits on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, awaiting his approval.

Myrie said the governor was a longtime gun control advocate, but hasn’t indicated if he will sign the legislative package.

“I’m hopeful he will sign it. We know how intractable this problem is,” the senator added.

Assemblymember Diana Richardson and Elite Learners’ Camara Jackson. Photo: Nigel Roberts

Assemblymember Diana C. Richardson, whose 43rd Assembly District covers PLG, joined Myrie at the cutting the ribbon ceremony.

“For too long in this community, the bullets and gun violence has been out of control,” she said, adding that Elite Learners will be part of the solution.

“As we cut this ribbon, understand the symbolic beginning of what is getting ready to happen,” Richardson said, as she invited community residents “to join in this journey” because they are stronger together.

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Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is a New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist. During his career, Nigel has written for several newspapers and magazines. He has extensive experience covering politics and was a...

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