Peace up, guns down for Gun Violence Awareness Month

McPhatter explained, “We are advocating for an increase in the Summer Youth Program to be all year- round. Every year we get 11-15 young people and teach them conflict resolution that makes sense to their peers; they then go out and are able to help resolve situations in the parks and in the community.”

GMACC and other violence interruption groups teach our young people how to “de-escalate and meditate rather than escalate.”

A Giffords Law Center study published in March claimed that there were 900 deaths by firearm in New York, which is the third lowest rate per capita in any state besides Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This may be in part because of the federal laws in place. New York’s Secure Ammunition and Firearm Enforcement Act, passed in 2013, is one of the strictest state gun laws. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “The SAFE Act stops criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying a gun by requiring universal background checks on gun purchases, increases penalties for people who use illegal guns, mandates life in prison without parole for anyone who murders a first responder and imposes the toughest assault weapons ban in the country.”

State officials represented their neighborhoods and expressed their support of crisis management organizations. Councilman Williams said, “When you fund local organizations, they do a better job at healing the ills of gun violence.” There was also a push for more action on the federal level. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney urged Congress to pass stricter gun legislation. She emphasized, “Putting a stop to gun violence should not be a partisan issue. It is a life or death issue.” Assemblywoman Diane Richardson of Crown Heights criticized Cuomo for not doing enough to stop gun violence, stating, “A budget is a testimony for our values. It’s time for the state of N.Y. to put their money where their mouth is.”

Co-founder of social activist hip-hop group 4 Wheel City Namel “Tapwaterz” Norris was 17 when his cousin accidentally fired a gun that struck him in the neck. Being paralyzed from the neck down shattered the former basketball player’s athletic ability. “My injury wasn’t really a result of gun violence per say, but because of what happened to me I will always stay away from a gun,” he said. Norris and his partner Ricardo “Rickfire” Velasquez have used their wheelchair-bound lifestyle to raise awareness about inaccessibility in the city, and also to encourage youth to disengage from gun violence. Norris said, “It’s hard for someone to see past what they don’t wanna do. They’re not thinking about the guy they might accidentally shoot who will be in a wheelchair for life. We want to inspire them to consider their other options and potential consequences.”

Ford is another trailblazer in the fight to end gun violence. Her organization acts as a first response team to shooting incidents, provides anger management and meditation classes, and counseling for those in the community. Ford announced plans to be more proactive in hopes of de-escalating violence during the summer months. “We will intensify our work to meet the needs of our community. The NYPD doesn’t understand the dynamics of our community, but our organizations will host events all monthlong with a nontraditional, public health approach,” she said.

Upcoming events for the month include a community family day, street festival, Father’s Day Pledge Against Violence and a youth symposium. For more information, go to gunviolenceawarnessmonth.com.