Elected officials and advocates came together at City Hall last week to kick off Gun Violence Awareness Month, which is observed throughout June.
The large, passionate crowd stood in the rain before an empty casket symbolizing the lives lost each year in New York to gun violence.
Elected officials speaking at the press conference included Councilmembers Jumaane D. Williams, Vanessa Gibson, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Andy King, Adrienne Adams, Kalman Yeger, and Francisco Moya. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson also addressed the energized crowd of activists.
Many were violence interrupters working with the Crisis Management System and the Cure Violence program.
These larger efforts are implemented on a neighborhood-level by individual groups, who aim to prevent and intervene in potential acts of gun violence, according to Williams, representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
He said activist speakers included Shanduke McPhatter of Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes (GMACC), Erica Ford of LIFE Camp, and Derek Latif Scott, with Save Our Streets (SOS).
Mothers of those who have lost children to instances of gun violence also spoke at the moving event, at which a moment of silence was observed for all of those killed as a result of gun violence.
Speakers said that while mass shootings draw the bulk of media attention, gun violence is a daily reality in many communities, especially low-income areas and communities of color.
They called for increased investment in the communities themselves and in groups that fight gun violence on a local level, often through the Crisis Management System and Cure Violence.
“Gun Violence Awareness Month is an essential time to call attention to the plague of gun violence on our streets and to pursue comprehensive solutions to combat that epidemic,” said Williams, a candidate for New York State Lieutenant Governor. “Over the past several months, our nation has had a sustained conversation about gun violence, and the scourge of mass shootings, but conversation must turn into action.
“It is also vital that the conversation extends beyond the mass shootings that make national news to confront the daily violence in our communities,” he added. “Truly fighting gun violence means addressing each of these tragedies with passion and dedication, and I am proud to work with advocates and elected officials who exhibit that passion every day.”
Ampry-Samuel, who represents the 41st Council District in Brooklyn, said gun violence is “an epidemic fraught with senselessness and a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life.” She said that in her district alone, there have been 14 fatal acts of gun violence this year.
But Ampry-Samuel added: “District 41 is much more than that. It is a district with strong cultural roots, dynamic people and an extremely bright future.
“Along with preventing gun violence and alleviating violence generally, my primary focus will be to enriching my district with resources in a way that it has not seen in nearly a decade,” she said. “I am proud to stand with all participants of gun violence awareness month and look forward to the constructive partnerships and amazing work we do this month and in the future.”
Ford, chief executive officer and founder of Life Camp, Inc., said while the Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, N.M. shootings were “incredibly heartbreaking, black and brown communities suffer from gun violence every single day.” She added that, just this past Memorial Day weekend, there were more than 200 incidents.
“We cannot stand by idly or remain silent about this public health crisis,” she said. “Legislation is critical, but we need multi-faceted solutions that include prevention and resources that get to the root of gun violence in our innermost cities.
“June, as Gun Violence Awareness Month, is a time to raise awareness and also celebrate the organizations doing the work interrupting violence every day,” Ford added.
According to New York Police Department (NYPD) statistics, this past year marked the safest year since the 1950s, with shootings at a level 20 percent lower than the previous year.
Gun Violence Awareness Month was first created as a statewide initiative in 2012, when former Brooklyn Assemblyman Karim Camara introduced the first ever statewide initiative and subsequent resolution designating June as Gun Violence Awareness Month. In 2014, Williams introduced city legislation that recognized every June as Gun Violence Awareness Month.
These resolutions were introduced with the hope that the month would shine light on the need to pass important gun safety legislation and to utilize various community resources to combat the epidemic of gun violence, to protect all New Yorkers, especially those who are disproportionately affected by gun violence, Williams said.