Anti-Gun Movement Picks Up Steam On MLK Day
"Up With Peace, Down With Guns," they chanted on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as Rockaway residents of all ages and community leaders marched to retake their streets and end the gun violence that claimed four young lives and brought 2006 to a bloody close.
The "March For Life," was organized by Councilman James Sanders Jr. and started off with a modest crowd at the Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway.
By the time the marchers left the Beach 41 Street Houses, however, there were nearly 100 people walking on Beach Channel Drive, chanting and singing.
At each stop - Ocean Bay Apartments, Ocean Village and Carlton Manor - people joined in the march until the crowd swelled as it ended at the Hammel Houses on Beach 81 Street.
Stopping on the corner of Beach 40 Street, nearby the Beach 41 Street Houses, Sanders was joined with some young children who live there.
"We are marching for the lives of these young ones who deserve a better life than we have," Sanders said. "The youth have to correct the problem, but they can be guided and inspired by us."
At Ocean Village, former assembly candidate Michael Duvalle addressed the youth in the growing crowd.
"How many more youth do we have to lose to violent crime?" he asked.
Duvalle continued by telling young people, "If you see someone with an illegal gun tell them to get rid of it, talk to someone else or tell the authorities."
The Feurtado Brothers, Todd and Lance, of the King of Kings Foundation and Men United for a Better New York City and for the Reentry of Ex-Offenders were once part of the problem. Now, they say they are part of the solution.
Lizzy Brown, a resident of Beach 41 Street Houses, stood with her great grandsons as she spoke.
"They're why I'm here, and I support this," Brown said. "I'm tired of all this violence."
Les Paultre, the father of Nicole Paultre, whose fiancé Sean Bell was killed by police last November, called for the end of black on black violence.
"We can't keep killing each other," Paultre said. "Looking at a playground I see my daughter's kids without a father. It's important to stick together.
Minister John Grable, of the First Church of God, called those who carry guns punks.
"We need to put down the guns and pick up the basketball again," Grable told marchers outside Carlton Manor on Beach 71 Street. "Anyone who fights with a gun is a punk. A man fights with his intellect to stay alive."
Many who spoke at the march had personal knowledge of the grief that comes with gun violence.
Genevieve Ahern, talked about her nephew who was killed on November 27.
"My nephew, Christopher Glenn, was killed in this development," said Ahern on the corner of Beach 54 Street near Ocean Bay Apartments. "Our young are making bad decisions. It has got to stop."
"Kids from all over Rockaway come and have the best time," explained Ahern.
Sanders responded by promising to support the effort by putting money into it.
Monique Daily also said her friend's daughter was killed by gun violence.
During the afternoon, Sanders was able to convince many youth in the crowd to speak.
"As young people we need to talk loud [against violence]," said Christopher Thompson, 14, who attends the Channel View School for Research. "Martin Luther King fought for us to be heard."
Brian Edwards, 22, of Edgemere said the amount of violence in Rockaway is saddening.
"The community needs to stand up and stop killing each other. It starts with us," Edwards said. "My sister's best friend's little brother was 16, and he died from gun violence. He was shot in Edgemere by, I think, a 17 year-old."
Colette from Redfern lost a good friend to gun violence.
"Please put them [the guns] down," she said.
Youngsters who aren't yet in their teens, such as Ashaun Viassy, 9, and Marquise Glover, 10, also took part in the more than two-hour walk.
"I'm here to walk for peace," said Viassy, as his grandmother, who spoke to him about getting involved, looked on.
Glover's grandmother brought him as well.
"I'm here to march to stop the violence so my brothers and sisters won't get killed everyday," Glover said.
One workshop was strictly for people under 25 to give them an opportunity to talk to each other. The other workshops, one for faith-based organizations and the other for civic organizations, were meant to give the respective groups a chance to talk, find answers and receive training for handling the current problems.
"We were talking about joining together. Uniting to go on trips and do more things together," said Najette Miller, 18, as she exited the youth meeting.
There are several initiatives already planned to continue what was started on Monday.
"After being fully trained, my office will fund [different groups]," said Sanders. "One group will employ youth to fix homes for the elderly. Another is a mentorship program. My office will make sure this happens in the Rockaways, as well as the rest of my district."
After the march, Sanders was optimistic about the days' events.
"What better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day than to march for life and reclaim our youth," Sanders said.