They gathered at the hardscrabble intersection where the Albany Houses, a boarded-up former bodega, a small supermarket and a public elementary school meet at the four corners. It’s also the intersection where 14-year-old Tyrek O’Hara-Morris was gunned down last week following what police sources said was a dispute between two rival groups of teens.
Only on this Saturday, the intersection was filled with several dozen local clergy, residents and organizations from as far away as East New York, spreading an emotional and clearly positive message.
“If you watch my grandmother,” shouted Lisa Jones into a bullhorn.”
“I’ll watch yours,” the crowd answered back.
“If you watch my brother!”
“I’ll watch yours!”
“Stop the killing,” Jones shouted.
“Start living!” the crowd answered back.
“Stop the shooting!”
Jones is the program manager for SOS (Save Our Streets) Crown Heights, a national community-based organization first established in Chicago to end gun violence in the neighborhood.
Joining SOS members on this day were such like-minded and active organizations as the Clergy NYPD Task Force out of the 77th Precinct, Man Up Inc. from East New York, the Top Notch Ladies Social Club out of Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the Presidential Ladies Social Club out of the Albany Houses.
Tyrek O’Hara-Morris’ mother, Althea O’Hara, also participated, despite the grief of losing the fourth of her five children.
“Tyrek didn’t die in vain because I will now fight for a change and make it part of my life to ensure safety for all the little brothers and sisters,” she said. “This is not the end. I would like this violence to start a new beginning in this Crown Heights neighborhood.”
Some neighborhood locals watching the gathering from across the street had differing views on how to curb the violence.
“Parents need to take their kids out of the neighborhood sometimes,” said Jessie Mack, 49. “They should be taken to the zoo or to a farm in the country so they grow up learning there is more than just these streets. A lot of these kids have never left the neighborhood.”
Jones said the whole idea behind SOS is to change the mind-set of the at-risk youth.
“People feel like there won’t be a change but that’s all the more reason for us to be out here,” said Jones.
As the rally went on, some of the local youth arrived, a few wearing makeshift necklaces with laminated photos of their fallen friend draped around their neck. Others wore black, and a few wore red.
Some paid their respects at a makeshift memorial of candles, and blue and white balloons on the spot where Tyrek was shot. Others gathered ominously in a small circle across the street.
“I know a lot of these people and they won’t listen,” said Princess, 16. “You need to get to the young minds and the best way is through music. Maybe if they had a rap star here who had a song about not shooting each other it would work.”
But Jones said some of the youths’ hardened attitudes is all the more reason that SOS continues to send outreach volunteers to speak in at-risk communities and to let the young know there are other ways to settle differences besides resorting to violence.
“In communities of violence it can be seen as being normal and we see it as a behavior that can be unlearned,” she said, adding if one or two of the youths who saw the rally can change some of their negative behavior it’s worth it.
“When you have a shooting, kids are emotional and feel down about that, and they feel like there won’t be a change, but that’s all the more reason for us to be out here,” she said