Brownsville Anti-Violence Town Hall Attracts Standing-Room-Only Crowd
Anyone who has a loving connection to Brownsville was compelled to attend the State of Emergency Town Hall meeting at First Baptist Church in Brownsville last Friday. Hosted by KISS-FM and Tony Herbert in collaboration with WPIX Channel 11, the 1200-seat church was filled with concerned community activists, elected officials, and representatives of local community organizations. The event was held in the aftermath of the Pitkin Avenue rooftop shooting of Zurana Horton, mother of 12 who died shielding her children from a hail of bullets.
KISS-FM Open Line co-hosts Bob Slade and Bob Pickett and WPIX news correspondent Mike Gilliam asked heated questions that generated serious answers. At times, the meeting was contentious.
Slade asked, “What was the tipping point [that led to the town hall]? Community activist Deirdre Olivera-Douglas said, “It wasn’t just Zurana Horton. We have lost so many people to violence. It’s been going on for 20 to 30 years, the wars between the different projects. We are not savages. We are taxpayers. There are things we are entitled to as a community.”
Pickett asked, “Why we killing each other?” Olivera-Douglas believes the problem is frustration. “A lot of us don’t know where to go what to do to make the situation better.”
“To what extent can we place the blame on absentee fathers were not taking control of their sons who are causing violence?” asked Pickett. Olivera-Douglas said, “Absentee fathers are a big problem in our community. I know some strong brothers who are there for their children. Brothers need to be involved in their children’s lives. There are some things that a woman cannot teach a male child.” Pickett recommended that children should not be out on the streets after nine o’clock.
Brooklyn Blizzard’s founder Anthony Newerls disagreed. “I didn’t have a father in the household. But when you have an old-school mother, she becomes the mother and father. Sometimes the father in the household is the problem.” Newerls described “mentoring young males to live right, then they go home and see a negative element; a negative father in the home drinking, smoking, selling drugs, that is part of the problem here in Brownsville, Brooklyn.” Newerls did remind the audience that some of the greatest people in world came out of Brownsville.
Gilliam asked to first focus on a plan to solve the problem. Newerls said funding is needed. He compared the recent hate crimes in Midwood to Brownsville. “We have Black-on-Black hate crimes in Brownsville every day. We need resources to do programs ourselves.” Lance Goodwin of Trucked Out SUV said “It’s going to take the community to save the community.”
Mr. Tannis from the Pitkin Avenue BID said he has seen gangs who think they own the block. “None of them own a block; none of them pay taxes on a block. What do they have to show for the senseless killings? Nothing.”
Slade and Pickett called for black men to patrol the community. Pickett said “We spend so much money on junk, we should fund our own street patrols.” Herbert responded by saying, “It is not begging when something is supposed to be earmarked. Our taxes are supposed to come back to the community.”
All the elected officials representing Brownsville were in attendance: Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, State Sen. John Sampson, Assemblyman William Boyland, and Councilwoman Darlene Mealy.
Mealy said as a young person she started a block association in response to shootings in her neighborhood. She also initiated three basketball teams funded from her own paycheck because she felt “Our children need to be off the streets.” Mealy said the Hasidic community and the 71st Precinct came to her office with a proposal for a street patrol. As a result, they received funding for bullet proof vests. Mealy asked, “What organization in Brownsville came and said ‘We want to be police patrol?’ We have to make sure that we know what we want.” Mealy said cameras are in Brownsville housing because the Tenant Associations came to her and asked for them.
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke said we all know our neighbors. We know what’s happening in our communities. That young one who was acting up, we say ‘Oh, that’s cute. When they turn 15, we act like we don’t know them. The challenge for us is to get our dignity back. As long as my community is ailing, as long as there’s something unwholesome, then the challenge is for me as a representative to go to Washington and say, ‘I need for this situation to be changed.’”
Clarke informed the audience of a recent vote in the House of Representatives that would make it legal to carry a concealed weapon throughout the United States. “There is a whole bunch of wickedness going on. In the midst of that, we are so caught up, that our situation becomes compounded.”
“When we lose respect for our neighbors, when we don’t even know who they are, when they are so beneath us we just ignore them, when we hear babies crying and women crying, we don’t have anything to say? We have some issues. There are the brothers and sisters who have PTSD, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) just like in war. There are some mental health issues in our community that we are not dealing with,” said Clarke. “We have got to be able to identify the areas in which we can assist one another. Our obligation to each other is important.”