“Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough”
Village Forum Focuses on Reducing Gun Violence
The following post is excerpted from an article written by Edward Yutkowitz
At a forum on reducing gun violence, coordinated by Gun Reform Committee co-chairs Deb Sherman and Allison Stowell and presented on Nov. 21st by Village Independent Democrats (VID) and several other Manhattan Democratic clubs, the focus was on what community groups in violent neighborhoods are doing to reduce demand for guns. Said Debra Sherman, one of the forum’s organizers, “We want to spread the word on how all New Yorkers can support that work.”
The discussion, held at Lenox Health Greenwich Village, was moderated by Rebecca Fischer, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, which is perhaps best known for fighting to regulate firearms. But this forum emphasized that the answer isn’t more police, but rather public-health solutions to reduce violence of all kinds.
Dr. Rob Gore, an Emergency Physician and the founder of Kings Against Gun Violence, or KAVI, suggested that the problem of violence be reframed as one of trauma, not just guns. “Environments that have a legacy of racism, poverty, violence, and lack of economic opportunities are constantly stressful and create long-term trauma.”
Few are as close to the front lines of gun violence as Man Up, Inc., which operates in the East New York, Brownsville, and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Its representatives, known as “interrupters,” have their ears to the ground and are often able to intercede in volatile, potentially violent, situations and stop them before they escalate. As former gang members, they have the respect of the community and have achieved great success in reducing gun violence. As Man Up interrupter Jeremy Arse, who’s known by his street name, Brother Curley, put it, his community work emphasizes that, “Love is just as powerful as violence.”
The program director for NYAGV’s ReACTION Youth Program, Shaina Alexander, talked about working with high-school students to reduce gun violence. “These are kids who often resort to violence because they feel they have no other means and don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with the difficult, often brutal, circumstances in which they live.”
Deputy Public Advocate Nick Smith talked about the work of The Crisis Management System, which helps oversee many of the community groups working to reduce violence in New York City. Funded with $36 million from the De Blasio Administration and the New York City Council, CMS coordinates a network of non-profit providers in 22 police precincts that offer a range of services, from mediating conflicts on the street, to job training, employment opportunities, and mental health services. The CMS programs coordinate and complement each other, working not just with kids but their parents.
VID has long advocated for common-sense gun regulation, but stepped up its efforts two years ago, after the epidemic of mass shootings. “We saw how the students organized after the Parkland shootings, and felt that we had to get involved,” says Allison Stowell, co-organizer of the forum.
In June of 2018, the club started a campaign to send postcards signed by members of the community to urge Governor Cuomo to support ERPO. This “red flag” bill will restrict gun possession by potentially violent family members. The campaign sent 1300 cards to the Governor, who signed the bill into the law in May of this year.
“When we think of fighting for regulating guns, we often think of large organizations that already have big dollars behind them,” Sherman adds. “We have to make sure that grass-roots organizations in our communities are recognized, appreciated, and most of all properly funded.”
VID provided attendees at the forum with a list of practical suggestions for New Yorkers to help reduce gun violence. These include educational resources and information on grass-roots groups that are working on behalf of communities throughout New York City. To learn more about these ideas, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com