#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.

Solar Power Prepares Southern Brooklyn For the Future

The realization that clean energy, namely solar, can save the city in a crisis such as Hurricane Sandy, is sweeping through neighborhoods. Solar, which is renewable, efficient, and off-the-grid, provides energy which was needed throughout the damaged areas of the boroughs lacking in emergency preparation.

A press release in November 2016 announced that the Office of Storm Recovery, funded by Governor Cuomo, appointed 26 facilities and 19 service providers under the New York Rising Community Center Program to create a network of neighborhood-based recovery centers for extreme weather events.

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Caesar Nash, a Solar One employee from Yonkers, pulls apart the summer stage in preparation for fall.

In 2014 the reconstruction plan for Canarsie was set in motion, which was directly inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Two of the hubs are in the Canarsie area, having been identified by the community center program committee as necessary. They will be fitted with solar power and sustainable batteries.

The Canarsie planning committee members include established local organizations such as the Canarsie Disaster Recovery Coalition, Flatlands 108th Block Association, Fresh Creek Civic Association, and the Jewish Community Council of Canarsie. Major non-profits, such as Solar One, the largest weatherization organization in New York State, help connect these local residents with the program’s renewable services.

Kristin Devoe of the Division of Emergency Services for New York City said, “Through our stockpiles, we can provide generators, light towers, etc. to local emergency managers for local use to power essential buildings such as gathering centers, warming centers, critical infrastructure public buildings. However, none of these items are fueled by renewable energy.”

Solar energy is a powerful resource. The lithium ion batteries, its non-toxic counterpart device, stay charged with the sun’s energy for when it is needed, while the excess is sent back into the city’s electrical grid. The Energy Association reports that, “Today’s electricity grid is increasingly vulnerable to threats from nature, terrorists, and accidents. Power outages cost as much as $130 billion annually, while hitting the job-creating commercial and industrial sectors the hardest.”

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The rebuilt Stuyvesant park nature trail behind the Solar One facility at sunset.

The Solar One site at Stuyvesant Park Cove on The East River was pummeled when Hurricane Sandy hit on October 29, 2012. According to their program report that year, they were able to quickly adapt their solar panel system into a crucial charging station for people nearby during the city’s recovery. Without alternative methods for powering electronics, and in one case a child’s nebulizer for asthma, people’s communications and safety would have suffered.

“You have to be prepared,” said Elba O. Melendez and Community Emergency Response Team volunteer from Canarsie.

Melendez and the committee have dedicated their time to readying their neighborhoods for natural disasters. The idea is to transfer Solar One’s adapted crisis methods into full-blown emergency and environmental education centers. “Many sources encourage the use of solar chargers by the general public in the event of a power outage for small items such as personal cell phones, rechargeable or crank operated lanterns, flashlights, and weather radios and these are considered effective in these instances,” said Devoe.

The organizations determined that solar powered devices, panels, and storage batteries would be the most helpful to maintain communications and basic comforts during a crisis recovery in Canarsie. Even suggesting in the reconstruction plan that resilient street lights powered by solar energy would improve safety during an emergency.

Angelica Ramdhari, Solar One Project Director of NYRCR Solar and Battery Backup Program for Community Facilities, hopes to create backup power for neighborhoods in need with elderly or local residents that have less access to charging, resources, and transportation.

 

 

 

Canarsie Dog Owners Skeptical of Local Animal Shelter

The Canarsie Kennel Club meet every first Saturday in Canarsie Park at Seaview Ave. and 88th St for their monthly Meet and Greet event, at which two dogs, lost and dirty, were found wandering around and taken in by members. The dog owners in the club, as well as pet owners in the Canarsie community, are reluctant to send stray or rescue animals to the only available animal shelter that is three miles away.

The dogs, a young black female Patterdale terrier and a blonde Pitbull, were found around 8 a.m. by three of the members in the kennel club. With the help of experienced dog trainer, Marquise Berry, and pet owner, Richard Want, the dogs were coaxed out of hiding and given food and water. Their ears were fly bitten and they smelled strongly of urine. According to Berry, they were soiled enough to indicate they’d both been in cages for a long time. It is still unclear if both of the dogs had the same unknown owner.

Canarsie Kennel Club and Canarsie Improvement Association Co-Founder, Leanne Desvignes said “I don’t know what we’re going to do. We can’t leave them here. This has never happened at a meeting before.”

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(Left) Marquise Berry, local dog trainer and owner of New Era Dog Training company, and (right) Richard Want helps rescue a blonde Pitbull and a Patterdale in Canarsie Park.

In the Canarsie neighborhood, there are currently three animal clinics but does not have its own animal shelter. The closest one is the Animal Care Center of NYC located on Linden Blvd in East New York, but pet owners are reluctant about it because of its kill policy.

“If we call that’s where she’s going to end up,” said Berry, on how to handle the dogs. The members opted to keep the dogs at their houses instead of calling the authorities or taking them to the shelter.

Dr. Peter Gusmorino of the Animal Clinic of Canarsie, that sometimes partners with the Linden Shelter, has been working in Canarsie for 30 years. He said the population has gone up in the neighborhood and there have been a few trends that he’s noticed. “I’ve seen less of the puppy mill dogs. Used to see a lot more of those. Now it’s more from shelters,” said Dr. Gusmorino. He remained neutral about the kill policy at the Linden shelter.

An Animal Care Open-Admissions Center, or commonly referred to as kill shelter, “accepts any animal that comes through its doors, no matter its medical or behavioral condition. As a result, decisions about placements are often based on resources and space availability, the health and the temperament of the animals at the given time.” It also means that there is regrettably a time limit on how long animals can stay in the shelter with overcrowding being a main issue.

Pet owners in Canarsie find the center’s policy to be understandable, but definitely an uncomfortable topic among animal lovers, many of which hoped to use the shelter as a last possible option.

“They’re a kill shelter but I can understand,” said Greg Hassett, a shopkeeper at Pete’s Pet Supplies, “There’s only one in the area. They could open one in the many abandoned buildings like on 95th and Glenwood. Been empty for I don’t know how long.”

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New blonde Pitbull found that morning

The Canarsie Kennel Club members kept the dogs in their homes for about two weeks while  advertising their photos and contact info for the strays on their Facebook page. The Patterdale was found a good home with an elderly couple who had recently lost their dog. The Pitbull is still temporarily at a member’s home until she can be placed.

Community Joins Forces to #GetBKOrganized Against Racism in Brooklyn

Senior Rabbi Rachel Timoner and the Racial Justice Subgroup of Get Organized Brooklyn have banded together on Wednesday to assist with their community in self organizing efforts to confront racism in Brooklyn in response to the white nationalist rally and attack in Charlotte, Virginia.

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Senior Rabbi Rachel Timoner shown before her opening remarks for the GOBK meeting

The Charlottesville incident last month concluded when several people were fatally injured after a man ran his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators at a white nationalist gathering.

In response, the Brooklyn organization decided that it was important for white and non-white members to reflect on root causes of white nationalism that affect their borough. Since last year the massive bi-monthly meetings brought together a “multi-racial, multi faith” group focused on breaking down systematic racism. About 300 people were in attendance in the large auditorium, quietly murmuring amongst themselves until the beginning of the meeting.

Councilman Lander, who was present and in full support of the group, and Rabbi Timoner gave brief introductions and updates on the agenda. Dara Silverman, director of Powerlabs, which is a network that backs other independently run organizations took the floor.

“Racism isn’t just what happens in the south, or in Charlottesville, or in other places, but it also happens here in Brooklyn,” said Silverman. She spoke briefly on different forms of oppression.

The other prominent speaker and group member, Eric Ward, advocated for positive and creative responses to bigotry or racism rather than violence, such as marching or artistic expressions.

“The best defense is unity,” said Ward, “unapologetic unity.”

A panel of community leaders spoke on diverse subjects such as the criminal justice system, segregated schools in New York city, passing meaningful legislation, and intergenerational incarceration.

As part of the non-hierarchal philosophy, the closing “break out groups,” small sections of attendees that are interested in specific panel discussions or activist subgroups, convened afterwards. They even took to separate floors or rooms in the building with self-appointed leaders to hyper focus on their interrelated agendas.

“We have these mass gatherings,” Timoner said, “to build democracy. I do think that’s the answer.” She said that they are committed to holding an open space for people to continue to organize themselves and make an impact.

Renowned Legal Activist Stands By Michael Bennett Civil Rights Lawsuit

The President of the NAACP Legal Defense and essayist Sherrilyn Ifill backs a civil rights lawsuit filed by NFL player Michael Bennett, a Seattle Seahawks Defensive End, against the Las Vegas police department after police targeted and abusively detained him.

According to a letter he posted on his Twitter account, on August 26th after the Mayweather-McGregor boxing match, Bennett was targeted for being a black man, arrested, thrown to the ground, and threatened immediately following a shooting in the area.

Held at the Open Society Foundations headquarters near Columbus Circle, Ifill and legal scholar Angela J. Davis were discussing their new book, “Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment,” before a crowded room and overflow room packed with fans of their work.

“We have a democracy problem. Not a black people problem, you know, and not a race problem,” Ifill stated as the panel began.

The book, a collection of essays edited by Davis, focuses on policing and racial discrimination in the U.S and the impact of the criminal justice system on African American boys and men. Ifill and Davis, delved into why prosecutors, local public officials, and police often create racial disparities in the legal system because they hold all the control with no real transparency.

Bennett announced his intent to file the lawsuit hours prior to the start of the panel. During the Q&A portion, an attendee asked if civil rights lawsuits against police officials affect the progress towards a solution to routine racial discrimination.

Ifill said, “It does matter very, very powerfully. It’s part of the equation.” She expressed a hope that individual claims, new patterns and practices of the justice department, and prosecutors willing to take action would raise consciousness. “I was thrilled. He [Michael Bennett] was willing and he wasn’t just going to suck it up.”

She closed the discussion saying that the civil rights lawsuit is just a small stepping stone in a bunch of processes designed to pressure the criminal justice system into change, but a necessary one.

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From left Speaker Sherrilyn Ifill, Moderator Chris Stone, Speaker Angela J. Davis

The Rise of Birtherism

Written by Ariama Long

Our country has created some interesting and unassuming neologisms, most notably the addition of words like ‘hashtag‘ or ‘favorited‘ to link and save the latest social media phenomenon. However, not every new word we cultivate as a society is as safe and trendy. Recently, the new term Birtherism has taken on a life of its own.

This phrase is generally attributed to none other than business mogul, Donald Trump, when he savagely went after current President of The United States (P.O.T.U.S) Barack Obama in his second term run against Mitt Romney. Trump thrust himself into the limelight claiming that Obama had no right to run for presidency because he was not a natural born citizen, after which dominated a large percentage of the news coverage that year.

According to James Taranto, in his article published in the American Spectator, “That same week, Donald Trump’s revival of citizenship questions accounted for much of the attention directly on the Obama administration, at 4% of the newshole in PEJ (Project for Excellence in Journalism) reports.”

Briefly fueled by the media, Trump is slinging the same accusations against a new opponent, namely Ted Cruz. Birtherism thus takes a gruesome pirouette in the spotlight in a year where refugees, immigrants, racism, and religious outcasts are always sure to be the topic of conversation for any candidate. Considering that I’m not a huge fan of politics, I’d rather briefly discuss the emergence of this word and the societal attitude that bore it than rant on about Trump and his inveigling tactics.

As President Obama stated in his last State of The Union address:

 

 

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