“For far too many young lives, we have lost them to gun violence here in Queens County,” said Borough President Melinda Katz last week surrounded by southeast Queens community leaders. “We need to act and we need to act now.”
Katz, who is also the Democratic candidate in the race for Queens district attorney, emphasized her goal, if elected, to make the office a community partner in the borough’s fight against gun violence.
She acknowledged the many members of faith groups and civic organizations and the Cure Violence programs who consistently work to provide an example and “an infrastructure of support” for the young people faced with difficult decisions.
“The centerpiece of our plan is to implement guns as a public health issue and to treat it as such,” Katz explained. “Treat violence as a contagious disease, one that can be effectively treated and prevented.”
She said her focus would be on encouraging and amplifying grassroots work within high-risk communities, such as mentorship resources, drug treatment support, mental health services, job training, after-school activities and re-entry programs.
On the legal end, she would implement tough prosecution on gun trafficking, a 24/7 gun buyback policy and educating law enforcement and school officials on NY’s Red Flag Law, which allows guns to be removed from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others.
Reverend Phil Craig of Greater Springfield Community Church in Jamaica stressed the importance of partnerships with the local efforts that are already a powerful presence in affected communities.
It is not only a job for social justice activists and church leaders to protect residents from gun violence, but for anyone who cares to get involved, he said.
“My mother always told me it takes a village to raise a community, to raise a child,” Craig said. “And so it is a pleasure to be here with all these partners that have not taken it for granted, and are not going to sit idly by and watch these lives that are priceless go by the wayside.”
The potential for support from the future Queens DA is inspiring for Kevin Livingston, who spent more than $30,000 of his own money in the first three years of his program 100 Suits, which provides business attire for those searching for a job.
“It is incredibly encouraging to see my brothers and sisters here, who I have fought with historically at crime scenes, at funerals and walking the halls of Rikers Island,” he said Kevin Livingston.
Deriving its name from the six blocks and 96 buildings that make up the Queensbridge public housing development 696 Build Queensbridge works with funding from the mayor’s office to provide mentorship programs and violence interruption, which can sometimes mean standing between two armed members of the community.
Staff of 696 Build live in the community, which allows them to target high-risk youth and shadow them. When a situation that has the potential to turn violent does occur, they are more likely to be there when it counts.
But with just 12 members, 696 Build is presented with the daunting task of monitoring half of the massive development. A future partnership with the DA’s Office could help the program expand and reach more people.
“In order for you to be productive you have to speak the language of the community and move the way the community moves,” said the program manager, who is known as Himo in the community. “That bond and the relationship is always going to be different.
“We want to see the investment of empowering the community to take ownership for itself,” he added. “The reason that our program is so successful is because the people that are doing the work are from the community.”