“Regardless of race, zip code, or ethnicity, we are one New York. I have been an activist all my life, and those responsible, we want to hold them accountable. This is all about injustice, greed and neglect,” Sheikh Musa Drammeh told the Amsterdam News this week.
Hundreds upon hundreds of New Yorkers stood outside a Bronx mosque in the bitter cold on Friday Jan. 16, 2022, to pay respects to 17 Bronx fire victims most of whom they did not know.
“This issue has helped bring New Yorkers together in an almost unprecedented way,” said the imam. “Any reasonable person with sanity can see how it has peeled back religious, ethnic, economic and racial layers. Those who responded to the affected families come from all walks of life—from Africa, America, Caribbean and Afro Latinos—we are one family. We coordinators have decided to nurture this togetherness for a long term reality.”
He added that they deliberately made this a public funeral.
“In 1955, a 14-year-old young man was killed and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted that the world saw what was done to her son. She said she wanted the world to see what terrorism had been inflicted on her son, Emmett Till. I was inspired by this story, and I said this year will see what was done in the Bronx in 2022. #BRONX2022.
“When the cameras fade to black, and the politicians go back to their offices, the real campaign for transformation begins. We are this as a catalyst for change. We made the funeral service public and political because we lost 17 Bronxites, and with this preventable tragedy we have to use their blood to make sure this does not happen again.”
Drammeh announced his “#BRONX2022 to unify activism for transformation for the Bronx,” at the funeral.
With two children funeralized days earlier, on the following Sunday 15 hearses lined up, taking up the whole block outside the Islamic Cultural Center of the Bronx, on 166th Street. Well-coordinated teams of young men from the Gambian
Youth Organization served as pallbearers, wheeling 15 child-and-adult-sized caskets to the mosque from each hearse.
Calling it an “unspeakable tragedy,” Mayor Eric Adams was among the electeds who attended the janazah (funeral), as were Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, Attorney General Letitia James, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin.
Distraught and grieving, the city was shook when billowing black smoke from a high-rise fire took 17 lives, nine of them children, the youngest being Ousmane Konteh, a 2-year-old boy, and the oldest being Haji Dukary, a 49-year-old man.
Gambia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that 11 Gambians, including six children, were killed.
Last week the Imam Souleimane Konaté stated, “That is where the majority of the victims were from; there were also people from Mali, Senegal, and Guinea.”
On Sunday, Jan. 9, 200 firefighters put out the fire and rescued residents at 333 East 181st Street also known as Twin Parks North West. The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) reported that a space heater in a third-floor apartment ignited a fire, which sent choking smoke through all floors of the 19-story, 120 unit building.
It has become known as New York’s deadliest fire in three decades, since the 1990 Bronx Happy Land blaze which killed 87 people.
Early reports seemed to apportion blame on the third floor residents who did not close the self-closing door as they fled the fire engulfing their apartment.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro was to later conjecture that the door “malfunctioned.” The day after the deadly fire he also said, “Certain buildings can be built under different standards.” He said of Twin Parks North West, “It was potentially built outside the New York City Fire Code.”
“No one will ever blame the residents,” Drammeh assured, “it was the malfunction door that did not close. The father did what anyone would do to rescue his family. It is the neglect and greedy investors to blame. It is not the tenant’s fault. The door should have functioned how it was supposed to.”
Residents had complained about heat and the non-functioning self-closing doors. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development had cited the Fordham building for over two dozen violations including vermin infestations and non-operational elevators.
As billion dollar lawsuits are already being filed by affected residents, the building’s history is being reviewed.
Built in 1972 by the state Urban Development Corporation, the present Empire State Development Corporation, the building was sold in 2019 by Cammeby’s International Group to Bronx Park Phase III Preservation LLC, a consortium of investors including: Belveron Partners, LIHC Investment Group, and Camber Property Group.
This week hoping to “help advance a culture of safety in housing,” Rep. Ritchie Torres and Sen. Chuck Schumer proposed a four-point plan to address issues exposed by the horrendous Bronx fire. Saying they expected bipartisan support, the duo suggested federal legislation would have federal funds to install self-closing doors in federally funded multifamily buildings; install subsidized sprinklers in said buildings; invite focused federal authority in similar fire investigations; and demand that space heaters have automatic shut-off components.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Jan. 25, Torres said, “Simple things like self-closing doors can prevent large-scale causal consequences from a fire. Therefore, we will propose a law requiring all federal-funded home developments, such as Twin Parks North West, to have self-closing doors, and landowners will inspect the self-closing doors on a regular basis. And must be certified under an oath.”
From the very first day of the morning fire, the city saw a massive outpouring of emotion, donation, and communication. Over a million dollars was raised, food, clothes, toiletries and toys were given in abundance. The story was front-page and headline news for several consecutive days.
“The response from every facet of society from the government agencies in the Bronx, and transformed it into one of the most triumphant experiences for the community because of the response,” said Drammeh. “The pain and suffering of all parties involved have had their needs—immediate or what will be—addressed in the best ways possible. Every issue raised has been addressed immediately to satisfaction.”
Protective of their privacy, and recent trauma, when asked how survivors are doing, Drammeh replied, “We are managing now, we are grateful. Most of them are in local hotels. There are those who went back, because the fire was an isolated problem. It was the door that was left wide open and the smoke is what killed all the people who died. Some families are so traumatized that they don’t want to go back. The city said they don’t have to go back.”
The activist said that the nature of African families should be taken into account.
“We often live with extended family members, which requires more space, and that might require extra time to address. We still have families still in the hospital, 8 or 10 people with various conditions. Bronx Works is also helping those affected.”
Asked if the mental health needs of the Bronx fire families are being taken into consideration, Drammeh said, “1000 percent. Mental health and trauma experts have pledged long term help with mental health issues. The families are doing well because the city realized the magnitude of the situation, and provided all conceivable services. They identified their needs, and said they would be taken care of long term.”
He added, “This is New York, so of course some people will complain, but every requested service has been met or is being worked on. My job here is not just to represent the community, but to get all the resources that they need. We don’t want professional complainers and opportunists to affect the services rendered to us. We say our government from top to bottom came through, right on time.”