Events from this weekend have formed a tipping point in regards to Central Brooklyn’s response to several recent incidents of gun-related violence.
Saturday, at a forum on violence held at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center, a few dozen concerned citizens of our community came together to continue our discussion on public safety-- a journey that many of us began a few months ago, bringing together numerous organizations of different scopes of work, headquartered throughout the area.
This was an organic effort that grew from the outrage we collectively felt after a summer of violence that reminded us of a time twenty years earlier, one that we thought we’d never have to live through again.
Although this discussion and planning meeting was scheduled months ago, the timing couldn’t have occurred at a more urgent time, given the acts of violence committed in our area just days ago..
While some in the neighborhood feel that organizing rallies is an adequate way of addressing the grief and rage we feel, at the end of the day, participants hungry for change are often left scratching their heads, asking the same questions: What did we really accomplish by participating in something like this?
How did we take this issue from one point to another? Are we best served by expressing outrage through megaphones, or is it time to roll up our sleeves and move from rhetoric to action?
Saturday’s discussion looked to accomplish just that—ways that we as individuals and as a community can effectively and tangibly impact this latest wave of violence in our area. It was clear from the beginning that attendees, men and women spanning all ages and economic backgrounds, were serious about looking for ways to make a difference.
The event was well-attended. They were outspoken and didn’t pull their punches when it came to expressing their frustration and personal hurt. Invited speakers, like Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes—a leading voice when it comes to balancing prosecution with advocacy—spoke about the extensive efforts his office continues to make in prevention and intervention, while fiercely holding the line on protecting the safety of the innocent.
A significant takeaway from Saturday's discussion was a need for a more meaningful approach to mental health. Too many of our violent crimes have roots in mental health issues, especially crimes of domestic violence. I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life as a social worker and can tell you from hard personal experience how important it is to continue this discussion. Nothing changes unless behavior changes.
It is impossible to have a discussion on mental health without expanding it to include the broader public health issue caused by violence. As our elected officials begin their work to expand and overhaul policy, public health is a key factor in studying violence particularly because it continues to be a leading cause of death and injury in communities of color here and throughout the city, state, and country.
Expanding public health policy will give us access to the research and development funding to collect data and provide analysis needed to form the basis of our response plans.
Sunday afternoon, our area’s elected officials came together and held a press conference, declaring publicly that they stand in solidarity to address the issue of violence on a federal, state, and local level. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, State Assemblywoman Annette Robinson, and Councilman Al Vann as well as community board 3 chair Henry Butler should be applauded for this effort.
More importantly, they should be supported because they know that they cannot do this alone; they need the input from efforts like yesterday’s discussion, along with new ideas and reliable data to effect change through policy. It’s important that we voice our concerns and ideas immediately in an organized fashion to make sure our collective voice of is heard and respected. This is something I am committed to help facilitate in the very near future.
Back to Saturday's event: Perhaps the single greatest point made was the power of the simplest of efforts, something every citizen in our community can do effectively, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, educational background, sexuality, faith, or other any other category that segments us, and that is to talk to our neighbors, especially youth.
We are New Yorkers, often hardened against exchanging even the most basic of greetings with the people we see daily on our blocks or surrounding areas. It wasn’t always this way, and in smaller communities, many of which our families are rooted in, it is unusual, even offensive, not to do this.
In New York it can be a real challenge to get a stranger, especially one of our youth, to simply say “hello”, but it’s a good start that can open the door to broader conversations and initiatives that include prevention and intervention. We should not give up if the first few attempts fail (and often do); tenacity is critical with the hardest of cases, as these individuals are the ones most likely to slip away from us.
I respect the amount of rage and frustration we all feel over the violence in our community. I feel it alongside my neighbors. Yet the message from yesterday’s event was loud and clear, shared by community-based organizations like Magnolia Tree House People for Political Economic Empowerment, 500 Men Making a Difference, MSKM Presents, Tree of Media Group, NAACP NYCHA Branch, elected officials, neighbors, merchants, pastors, and more: The time for talking, the time for shouting into microphones, the time for protests and rallies is over.
It’s time to get something done. The talent in the room yesterday was incredible. The energy infectious. The determination, vivid. Added to that was today’s press conference conducted by our federal, state, and elected officials, a unified team committed and ready to effect change. We have everything needed to make this happen.
I am already looking forward to our next scheduled gathering so we can continue to move righteously to protect our neighbors and improve the quality of life in all of Central Brooklyn.
For now, while we continue to get organized and formulate a game plan, let’s begin with the tiniest step by seeking someone out, especially one of our endangered youth, and wish him or her a good day.