In one of the most stunning moments during the March For Our Lives in 2018, eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler took the stage and talked about the deaths of young Black people by gun violence each year. Wadler spoke with devastating clarity about the deaths by gun of 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington, who was fatally shot in her Birmingham, Alabama high school classroom and Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago teen shot and killed days after performing in President Obama’s second inauguration. As far back as 1992, fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins was killed by a trigger happy storekeeper.

Of course, the Black community, as well as other communities, have been doing grassroots activism against gun violence for many years but it didn’t seem as if the issue was getting the attention it deserved until recently.

One of the people responsible for raising that awareness is British journalist Gary Younge, who until Nov. 2019 was editor-at-large of The Guardian. Younge’s book “Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives” inspired artist and activist George Sanchez to start the annual Bang, Bang, Gun Amok marathon event three years ago. Explains Sanchez, “Younge documents ten people between the ages of nine and fifteen who were the victims of gun violence over a twenty-four hour period. It was just an incredible book!” He said he wanted to do a twenty-four-hour marathon, “to commemorate this reality.”

All manner of creatives came out the weekend of Dec. 6 for a free-wheeling, all-accepting, family-like atmosphere of the third annual Bang, Bang, Gun Amok. The event took place over a twenty-four hour period at the Abrons Arts Center at the historic Lower East Side venue Henry Street Settlement where parts of it were live-streamed on the Abrons website. A “nap room” was available for anyone who needed a break between the performances but wasn’t ready to leave, and free food and other refreshments were also available.

Presented by Henry Street Settlement and University Settlement Artists in partnership with the District Attorney’s Office of New York, the event united activists, academics, residents from the Lower East Side, and gun violence survivors in a call for an end to a culture of violence.

A DJ was intermittently on the premises to play music just for attendees to dance and lower some of the anxieties that might be triggered by the subject matter and, Sanchez said in an interview with Amsterdam News prior to the event, “To remember that, despite all this, we still have to celebrate life. That’s a must.”

Sanchez’s daughter Julieta spoke to Amsterdam News on the first night of the event. “My father is pretty creative and wild, so I wasn’t surprised that this was something he wanted to pursue. I’m impressed with how well he put it together and generated so much community support and now having it be an annual thing. It gets more powerful every year.”

Newspaper pages from the nation’s most prominent media outlets were affixed to the cement walls of Abrons’ black box theater. The stories chronicled some of the many deaths that occur in America, where each day over 300 people are shot and a third of those die from their injuries.

Among the guests at the whirlwind event were father of Sandy Hook victim David Wheeler, Columbine High School English teacher Judy Kelly, gun violence survivors Trenelle and Vertina Brown, and many creatives. They included the dynamic performance artist, musician, and poet Karen Finley, musician Vernon Reid, dance group “It’s Showtime NYC,” and spoken word artist Damion Sanders.

Dancer and choreographer Edisa Weeks, in front of plastic sheeting and supported by three dancers, performed a powerful choreopoem about the painful experiences of a crime scene cleaner. All wore white biohazard suits and blue latex gloves. Weeks, in character, described painstakingly removing human tissue, projected from the body after being shot, from home appliances, and stumbling upon a child’s small tooth that investigators missed.

Tyler Diaz reminded attendees that it is also important to remember to hold onto a sense of hope and optimism about changing the momentum on gun violence in the United States. His set ended with an acoustic guitar rendition of the Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World.”

Sanchez himself did a reading chronicling the largest mass execution in America’s history, that of the Dakota 38 in Minnesota the day after Christmas in 1862. They were hanged on the orders of Abraham Lincoln.

It was also an interactive experience for the audience. Sanchez said in the interview prior to the event that he wanted it to be, “a space for activists, survivors and others to come together and have a person-to-person, story-to-story experience.” Indeed, he encouraged the audience to share their stories and to clarify the reasons that motivated them to be there. The weary response from one of the audience members was, “Well, earlier today there was another shooting.”