New York Wears Orange to Fight Bullets

Activists Carmen Pérez and Juan Ramos celebrated Gun Violence Awareness Month along with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James and others. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Activists Carmen Pérez and Juan Ramos celebrated Gun Violence Awareness Month along with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James and others. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Juan Ramos is 42 years old. Although he is currently dedicated to his activism work with the organization Save Our Streets, he spent his teens with criminal gangs in his Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

He saw street violence firsthand, but a painful event made him rethink his path. “I have lived close to the violence and experienced it in many ways. First, I was a gang member since I was 17, but then I received a blow from the other side. I did it well into my 20s but, when my younger brother, a gunman, was arrested and sentenced to 18 years to life, I understood that I had to do something for my life and for the life of the others,” said Ramos, of Puerto Rican descent.

This June, he is participating in activities to raise awareness of the issue. This year marks the third year that Gun Violence Awareness Month is celebrated.

“There are many things going on in our communities, and this month is a warning call for us to understand that we cannot continue standing by doing nothing while they kill our youths. We need to act from within our neighborhoods and we need to do it now, starting with prevention,” said the activist.

“We all need to commit to this campaign in order to change the reality [that] we are living in many communities with situations such as stray bullets and homicides,” he added.

Carmen Pérez saw her sister die on her 17th birthday. The teen had been “hanging out with people who weren’t doing good things,” said Pérez. In the hope that no other family has to endure such pain, she called on New Yorkers to become active in this issue.

The same message was expressed by Shanduke McPhatter, who for years has fought to keep youths away from guns. The activist recently lost his own brother to gun violence. McPhatter’s younger brother was shot during a fight that broke out in a concert in Manhattan.

“It’s ironic: I am dedicated to preventing gun violence and they kill my brother like this,” he said. McPhatter added that the tragedy only propels him to continue his social and educational work.

According to the NYPD, there have been 335 shooting incidents so far this year in the city, with 401 victims. Last year during the same period 426 incidents were recorded, with 495 victims. Organizations such as New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV) say that the figures reflect the commitment shown by several sectors regarding firearms.

“New York State is proof that smart gun regulation and enforcement work. The fourth most populous state, New York has the fourth lowest gun death rate in the nation. In 2014, 33,599 people were killed in the U.S. by firearms, 63 percent of them committed suicide. In New York, we had 875 gun-related deaths, of which 54 percent were suicides,” said the NYAGV via press release.

“In the last five years, firearm deaths have increased 6 percent while regulation over guns have been weakened throughout the country. However, in New York, firearms deaths have dropped 15 percent due to a combination of smart gun laws and relatively low gun ownership at homes, which is at 22.2 percent.”

Tamika Mallory, co-chair of Gun Violence Awareness Month, asked the police not to criminalize youths from poorer neighborhoods by using discriminatory language, and requested that elected officials work harder to guarantee youth safety. “We need to find solutions together. They cannot come into our communities and treat us like criminals,” said the activist, who added that the widely held notion that shootings and gun-related deaths increase during the summer should not be tolerated.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also pointed out the work of neighborhood organizations dedicated to fighting violence. She encouraged New Yorkers to join the campaign by wearing orange, and said that awareness needs to increase during this month.

“We have a responsibility to do things correctly, and these organizations help keep our children and our communities safe,” said Mark-Viverito. “We are not a safe city if our children are suffering. We need to eradicate the violence and continue moving forward.”

For her part, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said that it is important for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to support communities so they can carry on their work of creating programs to prevent violence and firearms.

“No more funerals. No more deaths. No more people dying because of guns. It is time to have peace in our city,” said James.

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