NEW YORK—Local residents, faith leaders, and elected officials gathered in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on Sunday to remember fallen victims of gun violence, while renewing their call for reforms within the police department.
The deaths of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in December marked them as the 16th and 17th victims of gun violence in the Bed-Stuy community last year. They were ambushed and killed by an emotionally disturbed man, while sitting inside their police car to patrol the Bed-Stuy public housing project, Tompkins Houses.
The incident escalated recent tensions between police and New Yorkers who felt a culture of brutality within law enforcement toward minority communities.
At Sunday’s rally held at the Restoration Plaza on Fulton St., clergy from local churches and a mosque, as well as their congregants, gathered to honor the deaths of Liu and Ramos. The faith leaders also led the group in a prayer to heal broken relations between police and local residents.
Captain of the local 79th police precinct, John Chell, and several of his officers also attended the rally.
Clergy members said residents value the work of police officers in the community, and recognize that many officers have a real desire to engage with them.
But the community also grieves for people who lost their lives in gun violence, including those who were shot by police officers, said pastor Shaun Lee.
“All lives matter, so we all suffer when someone dies of gun violence,” said Derick Latif Scott, an outreach supervisor with the Save Our Streets organization. The group, which operates in Brooklyn and the Bronx, works to prevent gun shootings by mediating conflicts and providing peer counseling to people in the community most likely to engage in violence.
Scott said the rift between police and locals can be mended through showing mutual support, like at Sunday’s rally.
Need For Change
Rasheedah Ali, a lifetime Bed-Stuy resident, said that while she feels for the deaths of officers Liu and Ramos, their passing shouldn’t take away from the need for change within the police department.
Ali, 66, said her son (who is black) has told her of unpleasant encounters with the police, including officers who pulled their guns at his face, assuming that he was a crime suspect.
“What the mayor said about his son, that’s an unfortunate reality,” said Ali, referring to when Mayor Bill de Blasio made comments about having to train his biracial son on how to interact with police.
City Council member Robert Cornegy Jr., who represents the Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights area, said it was “not mutually exclusive to call for police reforms and stand up for police at the same time.” At the rally, he released white balloons into the air as a local pastor read out the names of gun shooting victims in Bed-Stuy—as well as Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after a police officer placed him in a chokehold.
Bed-Stuy resident Ali said the police presence in her neighborhood is crucial. She remembers growing up knowing the police officers in the neighborhood. “We knew the officers and they knew us. They really seemed to care about us,” said Ali. But now, she senses that officers are afraid and distrustful of the community.
She recalled the case of Akai Gurley, who was accidentally shot and killed by an officer when Gurley walked into a stairwell of a Brooklyn public housing project. The officer was conducting a regular patrol of the building and had his gun drawn. Ali said her husband had recently retired as a maintenance worker in the same housing project.
“That could’ve been him,” Ali said. “Why are police so afraid that they have to take out their guns?”
The rally was also attended by council members Vanessa Gibson, Ruben Wills, and Laurie Cumbo, as well as city comptroller Scott Stringer and public advocate Letitia James.