Harlemites, friends, and family in mourning gathered this Saturday to honor one of their “fallen angels” 27-year-old Brittani Nicole Duffy, who was a victim of domestic violence and shot by her boyfriend last year. The community marched and held a balloon vigil for Duffy on what would have been her 28th birthday this past weekend to demand an end to domestic violence.

Pink and purple balloons and butterflies—Duffy’s favorite colors and creatures—decorated the park as attendees also donned the symbolic colors. The marching route began at the park behind St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, near Duffy’s old neighborhood in Manhattanville Houses, and then snaked its way around General Grant Houses on Amsterdam Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Duffy’s mother, grandmother, father, grandfather, son, best friends, extended family, and neighbors all attended along with domestic violence survivors and advocates from the community.

“On behalf of the Lawrence and Duffy families, we’d like to extend our sincerest thanks to everyone who helped make this day possible,” said Willy Lawrence, Duffy’s grandfather. “May we continue the fight, this isn’t just this community, it’s all communities where domestic violence has taken hold and root.”

On Nov. 11, 2021, Duffy was shot in the neck by her abusive boyfriend, 28-year-old Dennis Applewhite, on the Lower East Side where she lived in the Vladeck Houses development. The shooting happened in front of her surviving 8-year-old son. She was also 3 months pregnant at the time of the shooting.

Police said Applewhite was arrested and charged with “Murder and Criminal Possession of a Weapon” in connection to the homicide on Feb. 8, 2022.

The domestic violence walk was organized by Stephanie McGraw, the founder and CEO of We All Really Matter (W.A.R.M.), which is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving victims of domestic violence. “She was an inspiring young woman who was starting her life with her son. She was 3 months pregnant and with this man for a few years,” said McGraw, “and one of the reasons we’re doing this is because silence hides violence. She never told anyone about the abuse and what was going on until it was too late.”

After the shooting, the boyfriend fled the apartment with the gun. McGraw said Duffy’s and Applewhite’s son ran after him. Duffy’s neighbors, Nilsa Taboada, Elizabeth Justiniano, and Stephanie Medaivilla, reportedly intervened to pull the son inside their apartment at the last second to safety until his grandmother came for him.

“There were three women that heard what happened, seen what happened, and when that horrible, horrific situation happened, these women didn’t hesitate to open up their doors to assist,” said McGraw. “What they did that day, we will never forget them and we will always honor them.”

Councilmember Shaun Abreu presented Duffy’s neighbors with city citations for their act of bravery during the shooting and the family honored them with bouquets of flowers at the march for saving Duffy’s son.
Abreu said that domestic violence is very pervasive in the West Harlem and Washington Heights neighborhoods. He said his office is committed to connecting people to more resources and that the city council is investing in emergency housing for people looking to escape dangerous situations in real time. “We got to make sure our kids and our young adults are raised with the opportunities to prevent this in the first place,” said Abreu.
Abreu said that access to affordable housing, quality education, and health care are the root to expecting better outcomes.

This comes as the senate democratic majority is set to pass legislation to support survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence by strengthening protections for victims in New York State.

On Tuesday, April 26, the senate announced they’d pass the Adult Survivors Act so that survivors of sexual abuse have the opportunity to hold people accountable in civil court; pass the New York State Phoenix Act, redefining the term “physically helpless” to include individuals who are physically unable to communicate affirmative consent; and create the “Purple Alert System” for missing victims of domestic violence, said the senate press office.

They will also relieve survivors of domestic violence from utility contracts and establish a public housing priority waiting list for domestic violence survivors, said the Senate press office.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Last year, we passed the Adult Survivors Act (ASA) unanimously, because we understand that we cannot leave any survivor of sexual abuse behind. Adult survivors of sexual abuse deserve the chance to seek justice so they can start their journey towards healing.”

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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