#EndGunViolence: Why Brooklyn Students Choose Black and Orange

Crickets and bells could be heard outside of Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn. It’s 4 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. Students and activists, clad in black, began to slowly gather on the sidewalk as they waited for their charter bus to Washington, D.C last week.

The National #EndGunViolence Rally on Capitol Hill was held on Sept. 25, 2019. The group of mostly black and brown faces, from either Brownsville or surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn, wore black in solidarity for those who lost their lives from gun violence. Orange on their signs represent anti-gun violence awareness.

In the spotlights from the building, people looked mostly contemplative and sleepy. Brooklyn Borough President (BP) Eric Adams, also in black and sporting the trademark #EndGunViolence T-shirt, was already at the helm answering questions from the press.

“In reality, the gun violence epidemic happens in the Brooklyn’s of America.”

-Brooklyn Borough President (BP) Eric Adams

The Brownsville mass shooting at the Old Timer’s Festival in Brooklyn this summer, resulting in one dead and 11 injured, was just one of the many shootings in 2019 that inspired the rally. As of Oct. 17, Kyle Williams, a 20-year-old Brownsville resident, was arrested and confessed to the shooting.

From October 2018 to this October, statistics from the City of New York Police Department indicate that within the main precincts that service Brownsville, namely the 73rd and 67th, there have been 49 shooting incidents in total. Collectively, New York City in the last few decades has had a significant decrease in general gun violence and crime, but it has yet to abolish it.

Group photo of the ‘Brooklyn Says #EndGunViolence’ volunteers

Borough President Adams credits three students in his employ from CUNY’s City Tech and Brooklyn College that introduced the initiative to him and his office. Hercules Reid, Kevin Ferguson, and Brianna Suggs, pushed for Brooklyn to be apart of the larger, national conversation about gun violence and legislation; echoing efforts from representative of their district Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. “We want to utilize today as an opportunity to spread a message to end gun violence,” said Hercules Reid, Assistant to the Deputy Borough President & Community Coordinator.

Before the break of dawn the bus began it’s journey south. They head onward into an annoying bout of traffic and then to the House Judiciary Committee meeting led by Congressman Jerry Nadler at the Rayburn House Office building in the capital.

The hearing on banning assault weapons began at 10 a.m. According to congressional records, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019 was introduced to the House of Representatives back in January. The ban is meant to regulate semiautomatic pistols, rifles, and shotguns with large capacity rounds. The ban was updated in February, but has not passed into law yet.

The House Judiciary Committee is also working on accompanying bills called the Keep Americans Safe Act, which makes it a criminal offense to buy and sell large capacity magazines; and the Freedom From Assault Weapons Act, which takes automatic weapons and ammunition out of current circulation.

In opposition to the ban, Amy Swearer, Senior Legal Policy Analyst for Heritage Foundation, said that legislation against “law-abiding” gun owners is counterproductive. “Just last week,” said Swearer during the hearing, “a homeowner in Rockdale County, Georgia relied on his scary-looking semi-automatic assault weapon to defend himself against three masked teens, armed with at least one handgun who tried to rob him and other residents in their own front yard.” She maintains that assault weapons for citizens used in defense of life should be protected.

Youth attendees relax in the shade of the trees along Capitol Hill while the rally against guns continues.

“That’s not necessarily true,” said Jasmeet Sidhu, a lead researcher for Amnesty International, in response to the claim that gun control laws wouldn’t work.”It’s not proven, it’s actually a misnomer.” The report she worked on, named “In the Line of Fire: Human Rights and The U.S Gun Violence Crisis,” was published last year. It states that the government should enforce standards for guns to prevent them from being used by private individuals to abuse human rights.

Most recorded mass shootings do use “conventional firearms” stated the report, but high-profiled mass shootings that use assault weapons; in recent years have garnered attention of lawmakers and the public once again. Assault weapons were once banned in the U.S from 1994 to 2004.

The report also points out that gun violence and homicides disproportionately affect minority communities and young black men because of imprecise terms like “gang activity.” The historical socio-economic and discriminatory factors at play further complicate the issue.

“We don’t classify mass shootings, if a gang member is involved. So you’re basically stating those shootings that take place in the cities of America are not considered mass shootings,” said Borough President Adams, “In that case you would never have a mass shooting classification in the communities of color.”

The actual rally was held on the west-lawn of the Capitol Hill, overlooking the obelisk and reflecting pool in the far distance and the grander-than-life Capitol Building looming just behind the podium.

The people sing songs and chant phrases like “Ditch Mitch” or “Do Your Job” in the hot, bright afternoon sun. They’re referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hesitating to pass gun control laws. “If I were him I would hope not to make decisions based on party lines,” said Sidhu, who also attended the rally.

“Gun violence plays into it because it traumatizes people, and through trauma people act out. Whether it be from domestic violence in the household, crime or access to a gun.”

Outreach Worker Wallee Comer of Brooklyn-based organization G.M.A.C.C., or Gangsta’s Making Astronomical Community Changes.

There members of Congress, Senator Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, celebrity rapper Common, and countless young witnesses to gun violence cry out against the current administration.

Other states represented in the crowds of protestors included Chicago, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia. They showed up by the dozens in T-shirts emblazoned with white logos that read #EndGunViolence. Some holding photocopies of their loved ones, friends, or neighbors that have been victims of gun fire.

They demand change.

Untitled Poem:

While I’m trying to get an education,
The nation is held by anticipation.
We hold our breaths,
Wondering what the duration
Of time it will be
Before another maniac with a gun steps forward,
And America puts one foot toward
Becoming a place where this is normal.
I’m not trying to take your weapons,
I’m just trying to step in
Weigh in my opinion
Even when some say it’s not my dominion
I have a right to my opinion
So tell the alt-right,
The NRA’s minions,
I know the constitution
That makes up our democracy,
But I hoped you had the common decency
To put down verbal attacks
And put a stop to the hypocrisy.
How many kids must have
Red roses bloom through their chest
Before you realize
That change must be made soon
There’s no time to rest
It’s not enough
To just place an arrest
On a single gunman,
We need revolution and leaders
Like Hamilton, like Harriet Tubman.
We need change now
To make the list of dead kids count.
Because if not,
Us kids will grow and take our shot
Not with a gun, but with a vote
When we grow
You’ll no longer see our voices as remote.

–By Oluwaseun Showumni, currently a sophomore at Towson University. Born in NY, raised in MD, written when she was 17 in response to school shootings.

Wingate’s Fitness Fest

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A group of men and women elegantly glide on roller skates to Motown tunes on the handball courts. A group plays soccer, ripping up dust as they run for the ball. From the track to the playgrounds, everywhere you look is movement. There is life sweating profusely in the hot sun, but finding the fun in fitness none the less. 

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Councilman Matthieu Eugene

Just past George Wingate High School on Saturday, June 16, the Brooklyn Fitness Fest in Wingate Park– Winthrop Street between Brooklyn and Kingston Avenues–was in swing making full use of the recently installed playgrounds and workout gym equipment.

In addition to the usual basketball and soccer games at the park, the fest offered inventive workouts and competitions for the residents; including toddler yoga, ‘afrobics’, ‘skaterobics’, battle ropes courses, drum fitness, and pilates.

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‘Cas’ and Dee Hibbert

Director of the Friends Of Wingate Park Vivia Morgan said, “The councilman and the parks department has been working on this for four years. We’ve been advocating and asking for eight so it’s good to see everything finally come together, but we’ve still got work to do on the park.”

Despite the improvements in some parts of the park, the parks inspection program still rated the overall condition as unacceptable in March for its athletic fields, fences and paved surfaces.

CEO of Ballstar Vaughn Caldon said that the courts were still sorely in need of repair since they are used so frequently by the youth in the community.

According to NYC Parks project timeline the design for the new courts has been completed and is currently in review by the staff and counsel.  It states the construction phase, set to begin in December 2018, will take about 12 to 18 months.

“First there is a vote. An allocation of funds, and then it has to go through the different departments,” said Councilman Matthieu Eugene about the budget, “It may take a while but we’ll get there.” It is the councilman’s last term, and has said that he is a doctor not a politician, but if the people want him to run again he will.

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Wingate Basketball Courts

A Conversation with Cops and Youth in Brooklyn’s District 17

The atmosphere in the noisy, packed gymnasium was hesitant at best. The predominantly African American students sat in small groups with one or two officers in full uniform among them. “Officers! Don’t sit beside one another,” said long-time Community Board Chairperson Patricia Reddock as she scolded the crowd, earning a wave of laughter from all. The officers, now slightly embarrassed, move to disperse themselves among the adolescents. They all look expectantly to Reddock as the talks are set to begin.

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The Community Board District 17 Youth Committee’s 2nd Annual “Rap With Cops” event in Brooklyn, headed by Reddock, was held at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club on May 9. In attendance were roughly 70 teenagers from ages 13 through 19 and about 14 officers from the 67 Precinct of different backgrounds, genders and races. The goal of the event was to encourage youngsters to ask their own questions of the police without parents or teachers inhibiting the conversation.

They start introductions to break the ice and then slowly move onto role playing both ways. The cops are asked about everything from why shootings of young Black men always occur in this country to who would win in a one-on-one game between the precinct and the school basketball team.

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PO Raul Flores and student listening intently at the group discussions on policing and gun violence.

With the controversial police shooting two months ago of Saheed Vassell in Crown Heights, the neighboring district on the corner of Utica Avenue and Montgomery Street, police response and shootings are at the forefront. District 17 comprises of 88.3 percent Black residents and 21.7 percent of residents under the age of 18 according to the American Community Survey from 2011 to 2015. The East Flatbush and Flatbush areas are made up of these girls and boys that don’t always have a voice. The community board aims to humanize not only the cops in their neighborhoods that they rely on to the adolescents, but the kids to the cops as well.

Joan Bakiriddin on the youth committee said, “Look how much they’ve brought the chairs together. How they lean in listening to each other. This is our second year with the kids and they remembered and came back.”

Once everyone gets comfortable enough the staff and facilitators sit off to the side to observe the cops and teens huddled into tight circles smiling, listening, paying attention, laughing. Even the disinterested participant has a chance to speak. After about an hour the groups stand to present what they’ve learned from one another. “Split seconds can bring out the worst in people,” said one teen as he held the microphone and attention of his peers. The teens talk about the uncomfortable topics and role playing so they could get into the headspace of what it takes to be a cop.

“We’re nervous too,” said P.O Maher, explaining how it feels to routinely investigate dangerous situations. He said with the constant supervision and body cams no one wants to make a mistake or be penalized for someone else’s mistake in another state.

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The second annual “Rap With Cops” event was held in the gym of the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club in Brooklyn, NY.

Sgt. Bruno Pierre told his group about the instance where he was being attacked with an individual with a machete where he had to use his firearm. He said he talks to his kids at home in the same way, and hopes they learn from his situations.

Teen coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club Johnson Burrows said, “There should be more of these events. Sometimes you got to let people figure it out for themselves. Out in the streets, I’m not there to facilitate between the cops and teens. This way there’s an understanding.”

Reddock gingerly walks around to each group as some erupt in laughter or remain engaged as the evening comes to a close. Afterwards a signed jersey by Brooklyn Net’s Caris LeVert and student certificates for participation are given out as everyone flocks to the provided food and refreshments. 

#NationalWalkoutDay At Brooklyn Tech High: Photo Story

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Brooklyn Technical High School

 

 

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BKTech student at the walkout has a 17 marking for the seventeen fallen at Parkland.

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Student bows head in solidarity for victims of shooting.

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Group of students pose for a 4×5 photographer at the rally against gun violence.

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Crowds gather in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall in protest of gun violence in schools.

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Crowds gather in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall in protest of gun violence in schools.

Brooklyn Tech students gather at Borough Hall in protest of gun violence in schools.

Crowds gather in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall in protest of gun violence in schools.

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Student holds sign in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall in protest of gun violence in schools.