“We brought caskets to Jay-Z’s opening show at the Barclays Center to highlight the fact that there have been 306 deaths this year and over 1,200 shootings in the urban areas of New York City,” said Andre T. Mitchell, founder and executive director of Man Up! Inc. and national chairman of the S.A.V.E. (Support Anti-Violence Efforts) America Initiative. “We have asked Jay-Z to work with us as an Ambassador of Peace with S.A.V.E. We are trying to save the inner city.”
The coalition of citywide grassroots groups organized to rally outside the brand-new, controversial Barclays Center on its opening night, Friday, Sept. 28, which kicked off eight shows by hip-hop powerhouse Jay-Z.
Mitchell explained, “This was a rally to remind the city that there is not two Brooklyns. There is one Brooklyn. Yet, just blocks away from this spanking-new arena–built with public money–there are neighborhoods being terrorized by ongoing gun violence. We do not oppose enterprise and entrepreneurship, but we want all of Brooklyn and the city to be afforded the opportunity to build a life, live in peace and participate in economic prosperity. The city cannot keep ignoring what is going on in the urban areas.”
Last Friday, S.A.V.E. said theirs was a “humble plea to those in the hip-hop community and industry to help us challenge the pandemic and national health crisis that is gun violence in the inner city.”
As they spoke, uniformed cops, flanked by Barclays security, told the protestors, “Barclays don’t want you here. You can’t have coffins here.”
Demonstrators contended that the area outside the center was “public property, with hundreds of millions of dollars of public money given to the private developers of the Barclays Center. That makes it public property.”
White-shirted cops pulled Mitchell aside to ask what was going on. He explained and police officials agreed that he had every right to be there but said he could not block the entrance of the brand-new subway entrance and exit that leads directly to the arena, where thousands of people were expected to arrive within the next couple of hours.
Mitchell complied and the group launched into a mobile protest around the arena, which brought even more attention. From concertgoers to residents and downtown Brooklyn shoppers and workers, the same question was repeated: “What’s with the caskets?”
Once told, most nodded their heads in agreement with the cause or engaged in a conversation about what could be done to address the rampant violence. Some argued that the caskets were inappropriate. That opened the door for Mitchell to tell the media and assembled crowd, “I’m sorry if you don’t like seeing the caskets, but welcome to our life. We see these caskets too often in our communities and the media ignores it. We just came from another funeral of another young man who was shot and killed. So if we have to make you feel uncomfortable for one evening while you see this symbolic image in order to highlight the gun violence going on, then that’s what it is. There has been 306 killings this year, and 1,200 shootings since January–this is a pandemic.”
Occupy and Build Don’t Destroy Brooklyn joined in the protest, which was supported by S.A.V.E. members Man Up! Inc., I Love My Life, SOS Crown Heights, CeaseFire Chicago, Don’t Shoot NYC, King of Kings Foundation and the Feurtado brothers and Not Another Child, among others.
Mitchell told the AmNews, “This is an ongoing action. We will bring out the caskets to unexpected places to inconvenience the city until they really address this issue. Our communities are living under the fear of gun violence every day, and we have initiatives in place to challenge this. Based on the very successful CeaseFire Chicago, there are many grassroots efforts around the city tackling this pandemic.
“We brought the caskets to Times Square, Madison Avenue, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge. This is not something new. We hoped to get Jay-Z and other executives in the hip-hop industry to help us in our fight to save the youth. We weren’t protesting Jay-Z–we love our brother … we just wanted to get his attention.”