It is possible that there was never such a heart wrenching wail heard from a grieving mother as when Gail Owens looked upon the body of her 13-year-old son in his casket on Monday morning. It was like the walls of Harlem’s Convent Baptist Church literally shook. Grown men took repeated audible deep breaths to keep from crying out, and so many mothers just cried in each other’s arms.
It was horrendous. Shooting victim Christopher Owens’ classmates and friends were just bewildered and temporarily immobilized by the pain of the loss of this young man. Devastated young males wept openly, and young girls comforted each other. Others just sat with their heads in their hands.
“You don’t just kill a man, you destroy a family!” said rapper T.I., as he attended Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network anti-violence rally on Monday afternoon at the House of Justice. On stage with him was Melinda Chrinos, the mother of Corey Squire, the young man who was shot in the back of the head on surveillance video. That 17-year-old is to be buried on Friday 9:30 a.m. at First Avenue Funeral Home. Owens, a student at the Academy for Collaborative Education, was hit in the head by a stray bullet at a Harlem barbecue on Sunday, May 3. “Booba,” as he was affectionately known, would have been 14 in August.
“I don’t want this to happen to any other kid,” said Christopher Foye, as he stood at the pulpit, looking over the body of his son, Christopher Shakim Owens. And speaking specifically to the youth, he noted, “I don’t see any gangsters here…I see good people.” Foley told the AmNews, “Kids are following this ‘G’ code–but they are not gangsters. They are being influenced and manipulated by TV and movies. They think they have to live by this code when they don’t. ‘Stop snitching’– that rule applies to gangsters, not to people who hurt 88-year-old grandmothers or children or molest little kids.
“My son wasn’t a criminal; he was a good kid. This dude who killed my son is a coward. The rules were already broken when he shot into the crowd, so this ‘stop snitching’ stuff doesn’t apply. He already crossed the line. We’ve got to be able to check the negative stuff around us.”
When Gail Owens spoke, the room held its collective breath. Addressing particularly the hundred or so young people with their school principal and school administrators, she said that “this is the end result” of not following curfew. Speaking to the AmNews later, she said of the youth, “They’ve got to stay in school. They’ve got to go to college. They’ve got to listen to their parents and follow curfew. Had Chris stuck to his curfew, he’d still be alive. But, it was a hot day, everybody was out having fun, he wanted to stay out late. He didn’t know it would cost him his life.”
Wanting closure in her child’s murder, Owens said, “They’ve got this code of silence, but they’ve got to stop that.”
The mother of three college graduates pleaded, “If you know who did it, say something. They said a grown man was shooting into the crowd. “To the killer [who shot my son],if you have a conscience, I say, ‘Turn yourself in.’ I know he can’t sleep. I know he can’t eat. My son had a promising future ahead of him and he took it away from him.” Christopher Foye told the paper, “We are trying to find out what happened to my son. I want the guy to turn himself in. This was a cowardly act. My son was a good kid. I am starting a foundation in my son’s name, for kids in the neighborhood, to help with financial literacy and education. And Chris loved basketball, so I want to set up a foundation that benefits kids.”
At Convent Baptist Church, some of the young people who spoke to the AmNews, but didn’t want to go on record, did speak about their love for their friend and their incredible pain.
The face of Chris Shakim Owens looked solemnly from T- shirts and laminated photos hanging around the necks of dozens and dozens of children, many of who had attended the wake at Unity Funeral Chapel the previous day.
“They’re not ready to speak about it because it is so tragic,” said Foye. “People will open up as time goes by. My overall objective is to get legislation that if people shoot recklessly and someone gets hit as the bullet travels, then they should get a mandatory 25-to-life. I want to work with any elected official who will help me with the Chris Owens Bill.”
The obituary said that Chris was “a good listener and delightfully polite. He loved his home and spending time with his family. A gentleman and a scholar, a son any parent would have been proud to have.”
The Federation Multi-Cultural Programs Inc., Councilman Charles Barron and attorney Natasha Riley said that they would all establish scholarships in Chris Owens’ name. “He is with the leadership, with Dr. Martin Luther King, with Malcolm X, with Marcus Garvey. He is the clarion call,” Rev. Booker T. Morgan told the church. Looking over the weeping congregation, the reverend said, “Crushed hearts [notwithstanding], in the midst of this tragedy, in the midst of this pain…God loves us.”
Pastor Vernon Williams from Perfect Peace Ministry asked all the men to stand up as he said, “I pray [that] we as men start doing the right thing” so that mothers do not have to suffer such pain. Kiandre Porter said he lived on the same street as Chris and went to the same school until junior high. “It hurts that he would really leave like this, especially when nobody knows who [did it] and it was probably over something stupid,” he told the AmNews. “Why would you shoot into a crowd…full of kids on top of that?
“Someone needs to come clean; someone needs to talk about it more because this shouldn’t be happening around here. It really shouldn’t. It’s not good.”
Porter, 13, added, “The kids who might know something should let us know and help his family and the rest of us get more closure on it.” His brother, Jalil Porter, 11, said, “I feel bad. Whoever did it, they should come clean. Hopefully, something will happen.” Councilman Charles Barron, who spoke briefly in the church, told the AmNews, “We need more jobs [and] recreation centers, because every time this happens, we get new gun legislation, but these kids aren’t afraid of no gun legislation. We need more resources.”
Riley, an attorney with the Department of Juvenile Justice, told the paper, “I was totally dismayed when my godchildren [Kiandre and Jalil] told me about the shooting. We do need new gun legislation put in place, but we also need to reach out to the children and address their issues. Right here in Harlem, we have one of the highest unemployment rates among the youth. They just passed the budget for youth employment for the summer. But what about employment for all year round? Where are our community centers? We have jails in our communities, but we don’t have youth centers in our communities.
“Our children need a place to go. They need to know that we love them. They shouldn’t feel love and support from gangs. They shouldn’t feel that the only way they are going to get attention is by ‘g-ing’ up and firing a gun at a barbecue.” Riley, who is also an attorney with the National Action Network, continued, “A barbecue is where you go to gather with loved ones and get food and drink, not to be dodging bullets. This is senseless. A mother shouldn’t have to be burying her son. Children bury parents; parents don’t bury children. Enough of this talk. We need effective action. We need change. We need answers. We need solutions. Our children are dying in record numbers. There is something grossly wrong, and it needs to change.”
Foye emphasized that the person who shot his son “isn’t a gangster. He is a coward, and he should be dealt with accordingly. I want to work with any politician to get a bill passed pertaining to reckless shooting. These people should be held accountable for their actions. We need to check ourselves and get rid of our own garbage. Like every other neighborhood, we have good and bad. We have to
make things better because Harlem is a decent place.”