Panel of local activists and policymakers discuss gun control, call on community to take action
Bronx Community College hosts forum on urban gun violence
by Tanyanika Samuels
As the U.S. Senate readies to begin debate on gun control legislation this week, locally activists and policymakers have already sounded their own call to action.
“(Sandy Hook) triggered this conversation but those of us who live in the Bronx are no strangers to the senseless killing of innocent people,” said Bronx Community College President Carole Berotte Joseph during a special forum on campus last week.
“One of the goals here,” she continued, “is to broaden the conversation on urban gun violence.”
The forum, which drew 250 hundred students, faculty and community members, was the first in a new college lecture series focusing on major issues.
As grim crime statistics flashed on a screen behind them, the panelists debated topics such as universal background checks and effective community policing.
“A lot of time, people say ‘guns don't kill people, people kill people.' But people with guns are killing a lot of people,” said Phillip Thompson, with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Background checks are checking the people, not the guns. It is important that we have a legal framework...because from that framework, we can build.”
Bronx activist Gloria Cruz, whose 10-year old niece was murdered, placed the onus on local residents.
“We have a problem that ‘we' need to fix,” she said. “What you've learned here, take it and move it forward.”
Student Mohammad Rahman, 21, plans to team up Cruz for future rallies.
“It's not the legislators, it's not the police department, it's us as conscious community members who can really make change,” he said.
“(The forum) made me want to get involved,” said student Massiel Santos, 21. “I want to fight for gun control.”
While murders in the Bronx are at an all-time low since the 1960s, organizers said, more work needs to be done.
“We must look at gun violence as being a health epidemic,” said panelist Shafiq Abdussabur, president of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers. “If we don't, nothing will happen to get us where we need to be as a community.”
New York state's strict gun possession laws have not been enough to stem the tide of violence, said Adam Levy, Putnam County's District Attorney and a Bronx native.
“Too many people are still being killed in this community by guns the (shooters) don't have licenses for. There is a need for better community policing,” he said, noting that a growing lack of trust between community and cops is a major hindrance to fighting crime.