“It’s time for them to not sit down with the people that speak for us, but with us,” said anti-gun violence activist Erica Ford, founder of the LIFE Camp, at a Manhattan launch of June Gun Violence Awareness Month. “It’s time to bring attention and awareness to the anti-gun violence movement. This will continue to grow but we need to break down some of the bureaucracy so that organizations like these can get the money they need to be successful.”
From shoelaces to eyeshadow, orange was everywhere at the press conference at 1 Centre St. in downtown Manhattan. Council members and politicians stood side by side, including Ford, civil rights activist; Justice League NYC’s Tamika Mallory; A.T Mitchell, the founder of Man Up Inc.; Shanduke McPhatter, the founder of Gangsters Making Astronomical Community Changes; and Iesha Sekou, founder of Street Corner Resources.
This is an annual event, highlighting the sometimes bloody summer months. The push is to get more resources to the results-proven solution-based organizations. Fund what works was the rallying cry.
Politicians also stood beneath the blazing hot orange sun so as to be seen lending support, including Public Advocate Leticia James; D.A. Cyrus Vance; City Comptroller Scott Stringer; and City Council members Vanessa Gibson, Jumaane Williams, Daneek Miller, Laurie Cumbo and Robert Cornegy.
Many of the activists referred to the members of the movement as their family. The idea of support was a constant theme in the speeches of officials, activists and mothers.
Oresa Napper-Williams, a mother from Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, who lost her son Andrell to gun violence in 2006, explained the importance of the kickoff event. “It’s a city-wide effort and it brings more attention to gun violence. My son was killed during the summer months in August and a 15-year-old pled guilty and it was the day he should have been at a summer youth job. My son was just hanging out there. I think we can improve and push forward and set policy and procedure so that this doesn’t happen to another family.”
Natasha Christopher, another mother from Brooklyn, said, “You know what my 9-year-old said to me? He said, ‘when I go to the park I want to go play basketball, not duck and cover.’”
Christopher lost her 14-year-old son Akeal Christopher to senseless gun violence on his birthday in July 2012.
Among the number of mothers and fathers who have lost loved ones at the press conference was Shanduke McPhatter. He lost his baby brother Edgar in a shooting just two weeks ago at a T.I. concert at Irving Plaza in Manhattan. The shooting also left three wounded. Brooklyn-based rap artist Troy Ave (Roland Collins), one of the people wounded, was seen on video firing a weapon, and he has been charged with attempted murder and held without bail.
“I am taking one day at a time,” McPhatter told the Amsterdam News. “People are dying every day from this. It doesn’t stop me—I was already doing this. It’s just that now it gives me a different experience. I’m just focusing on the funeral and we go from there.”
The services for Edgar McPhatter take place Saturday, June 4, 2016, at Brown Memorial Baptist Church (484 Washington Ave., Brooklyn) at noon.
“We deploy our violence interrupters into target areas where we monitor a lot of what is happening,” Mitchell told the Amsterdam News.
“Our model of violence prevention works—we walk around, we canvass, we do a lot of one-on-ones, we talk to high-risk people, and if we know that there is a situation brewing we figure out how we can mediate it. Even though there were a number of shootings in the city over the Memorial Day weekend, there were none in our target area in the 75th precinct, which used to be called the ‘Murder Capital of the City,’ because while everyone was barbequing and enjoying themselves, we were working on standby for any type of emergency. I am very proud to be a part of a movement of brave men and women who come from neighborhoods that people don’t want to go into and [who] really devote themselves to truly make sure that violence is suppressed.”
During the launch, activists spoke about the importance of education, the knowledge of self, the value of life and government support. Ford called for increased support and partnerships with crisis intervention teams that lead on-the-ground gun violence prevention efforts. Ford asked for “heightened anti-violence work in the wake of over 20 people being shot in New York over Memorial Day weekend in over 15 incidents, including an incident in LIFE Camp’s target zone in South Jamaica, Queens, that interrupted the record set of 539 days with no shootings in that region. While LIFE Camp Inc.’s target zone has seen no killings in 541 days, LIFE Camp Inc. is calling for the city to band together as one to prevent further shootings.”
Ford continued, “We all have a role to play in defusing incidents and for over 539 days it worked and can continue to work if we recommit to personal responsibility. Violence is a disease and we have the medicine to cure this public health crisis to prevent future incidents.”
Mitchell said that de Blasio “has supported our work, but we are yet to sit down and talk with this mayor and go over our numbers and talk about how we expand on our success of this work.”
Mitchell also announced the “Free” campaign which aims to register 10,000 voters, including the formerly incarcerated who are free from any supervisory restrictions and the traditionally disenfranchised.
Under “…#free our goal is to register a minimum of 10,000 people and their families—when every seat is up for our vote—city council, mayor, borough presidents, D.A.s, the assembly, all of them. We want to increase our voter bloc and presence in the upcoming elections next year.”
New York State was the first state to designate an entire month to the matter of gun violence. The objective of Gun Violence Awareness Month is not only to promote awareness about gun safety but also to draw very sharp attention to the issue during these summer months, especially in areas where violence is at a peak. The month is meant to create a dialogue between the community and community leaders so that more ideas to create safer environments can be generated.
Peace activist and executive director of the King of Kings foundation Lance Feurtado, from South Jamaica Queens, sees the growth and future expansion of the movement. He stated, “It definitely has to grow because New York City is bigger than 18 sites and each borough should at least have 8-7 sites. We need government officials to stop talking about it and to put money behind it, and if formerly incarcerated officials that once walked this way of life would address this cause and help those that walk these violent lives now, we could do this. They could really make a difference.”
But first the word has to get out and that is done not only through the launch but through the color orange.
“Even paint one finger nail orange,” said Napper-Williams, “because someone’s going to ask you why you got one finger nail orange and you get to tell them. We are looking for gun violence awareness year and we want it to become a lifestyle.”