Stephen: Speaking out against guns, and remembering James Davis
Legislators in Washington chose, yet again, to evade gun control. After mass shootings in Newtown, Aurora and Tucson, the scuttling of proposed legislation to ban assault weapons and expand background checks defies growing public demand for meaningful reform.
It all takes me back to an interview I did with Brooklyn City Councilman James Davis 10 years ago, a few months before he was shot to death inside City Hall. Davis rarely strayed from his core issue: gun violence. Though I was talking to him about wrongful convictions, the former NYPD officer also reflected on his extensive firearms training. "Guns are serious," he told me.
In the early 1990s, when New York experienced a sharp rise in gun violence fueled by the crack epidemic, Davis emerged as a nationally recognized activist. His work ranged from persuading Toys R Us to remove handgun replicas from its stores to confronting radio stations that aired songs with lyrics advocating violence.
But just as his efforts made inroads -- including attracting support from rapper Foxy Brown and others within the hip-hop community -- Davis was fatally shot by a political rival.
I think Davis would have welcomed the development we've seen in recent weeks, as families of gun victims have been speaking out on Capitol Hill. While some critics derisively refer to the new advocates as political props, they're central to our public deliberations.
These discussions must occur on every level -- from Washington to Washington Heights. Jackie Rowe-Adams co-founded Harlem Mothers SAVE (Stop Another Violent End) in 2006, after her two sons were shot and killed in separate incidents. With very little funding, she conducts anti-violence campaigns for local youth. "We're struggling to survive, but enough is enough," she said while organizing a recent "rap-a-thon" to raise money for her group. "Everyone is focused on the national shootings, but what are we doing locally?"
Harlem Mothers SAVE holds monthly meetings for families of gun-violence victims. At the latest session, a new member -- a woman who lost her son just last month -- joined.
Sadly, even though a decade has passed since the Davis shooting and a heated national debate continues, she won't be the last.
Curtis Stephen is a New York City journalist who reports on the criminal justice system.