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‘A revolutionary form of peace’: Anti-gun violence leaders kick off Peace Week

January 15, 2020 Meaghan McGoldrick
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More than 100 anti-violence activists and nonprofit leaders from across New York City gathered on the steps of City Hall Wednesday to kick off the 10th Annual New York Peace Week, a series of events designed to uplift communities affected by gun violence. They also sang happy birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who would have been 91 years old today.

“Behind us is the reason why New York City is the safest big city in America,” said Queens organizer Erica Ford, founder of LIFE Camp, Inc., motioning to the people behind her. “And most of the time they go outside recognition, so we use this week to celebrate them.”

The event highlighted the work of community organizations, including Save Our Streets Brooklyn and 696 Build, that diffuse disputes in New York City neighborhoods, employing local residents, particularly young people of color.

“The level of importance that the fire department receives, that the other emergency agencies receive, our funding should continue to flow because of the work that we do as well on the emergency line,” added A.T. Mitchell of Man Up!, a Brownsville-based anti-violence nonprofit.

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Highlighting progress since the inaugural Peace Week in 2010, attendees at Wednesday’s rally praised the rollback of stop and frisk, as well as the expansion of New York City’s Crisis Management System to nonprofits in 22 precincts across the city. Many of the groups in attendance Wednesday work with so-called “violence interrupters” to mediate conflict and provide mental health services and job training.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice announced last month a new $5.5 million CMS investment citywide, including funding for groups based in East Flatbush, Coney Island and Brownsville such as Elite Learners and Operation H.O.O.D. Prior to that, a spokesperson said, the city had invested $160 million in CMS. From 2013 to 2018, CMS precincts saw a 41 percent drop in shootings, according to City Hall.

“Those individuals that are most proximal to what we are seeking to address are the ones that are best equipped,” Eric Cumberbatch, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said Wednesday. “Have the skill set, the granular knowledge and the ability to reach individuals across the city … that government has historically disenfranchised and has struggled to reach.”

Speakers Wednesday emphasized the downward trend in shooting incidents and murders citywide over the last three decades, while acknowledging recent concentrated upticks in certain neighborhoods, including northern Brooklyn and southeast Queens. Overall shootings increased three percent citywide in 2019 over the year previous, though shootings in Brooklyn were down last year.

“Peace Week is critical every year, but this year it comes as we see a spike in hate violence, xenophobic attacks, and an increase in gun violence in certain pockets, in various black and brown communities across the five boroughs,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said.

Williams added that he believes peace can be achieved without expanding the police force or rolling back bail reform measures that took effect this month and are already facing backlash from law enforcement and conservative legislators.

“What I’m asking everybody, to join us in a revolutionary form of peace. In a form of peace that actually works. A peace that does not mean 500 extra police officers in the subways. A peace that does not mean to peel back the gains that we’ve gotten from bail reform,” he said. “A peace that does not mean we have to lock up as many black and brown people as humanly possible.”

“We want a peace that simply means, like any other community, the resources needed for housing, education, employment,” he continued. “We would not be here, statistically speaking, if not for the men and women behind me right now.”

Shanduke McPhatter, founder of Brooklyn-based Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes Inc., compared the city’s investment in law enforcement to the money it invests in community organizations. The NYPD’s 2019 budget was nearly $6 billion.

“We talking about NYPD, who’s in the billions in regards to their budget,” McPhatter said.

“The arrests is what you do,” he added, addressing the police. “The murders, we stop!”

Covering gun violence is a project to reimagine how we and our colleagues cover gun violence and its aftermath. You can use this simple form to let us know what questions — or ideas — you have about reducing gun violence, and what you’d like to know about the problem.

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