By Gabriele Holtermann
NYS Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, together with the New York City Police Department, held a press conference after a gun buyback event at the Bethesda Healing Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on Jan. 30.
The no-questions-asked event yielded in the return of 48 firearms, including 14 handguns, 26 long guns, five non-working or antic guns, and three assault rifles. The owners of the illegal firearms received iPads, donated by Telecom and gift cards.
The gun buyback event was organized in response to the most violent year New York City has seen in recent history. In 2020, the city recorded 1,531 shootings, up from 777 in 2019, and the number of murders was up by nearly 45%, from 319 to 462. Brooklyn alone saw 417 shootings last year, with 504 victims, including 1-year-old Davell Gardner, who was shot and killed at a barbecue in Bed-Stuy in July 2020.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez emphasized that gun buyback programs are important to get firearms off the streets, potentially preventing crime, suicides, or young children getting shot in their own homes.
“Our community is looking for answers to gun violence. We have a buyback like this; it gives the community the ability to do something themselves,” Gonzalez said. “We know that the police cannot keep the community safe by themselves. We need our community members to be part of the solution. These gun buybacks are an important piece to that. ”
He acknowledged the work of the NYPD trying to keep the community safe and thanked Police Commissioner Shea and Chief Harrison for partnering up with him and State Attorney General James.
NYPD Chief Judith Harrison, Commanding Officer of Brooklyn North, acknowledged that gun violence is a shared responsibility and that the city struggles to address the spike in gun violence.
“We have been talking about what the police department’s role is, and certainly we do make gun arrests. But we do need events like this where the community can come together, where we are not arresting anyone,” Harrison said. “These are guns that are not making their way into the hands of anyone who will use to commit a crime or suicide. So it’s all about getting these guns off the street, and we are wholeheartedly committed to doing that.”
Assemblymember Latrice Walker knows all too well what it feels like to lose a loved one to gun violence. Her brother was shot and killed at the age of 19, and she delivered a passionate statement underscoring that the present gun violence was not a new phenomenon.
“Our beloved Brownsville community has been plagued by centuries, decades, years, days, hours, minutes, moments of gun violence. When we think about the history of this community, we may talk about the gang violence at present today. But there is something about the DNA and the concrete of Brownsville that have witnessed gun violence over the course of time,” Walker said.
To Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, the exchange of a gun for an iPad was not just a gesture of good-will.
“This is something young people in our community can actually use. It is not about just receiving an iPad; it is about being connected to the world. Brownsville is always known to be disconnected. And this is an opportunity to be able to provide a resource people can actually use to build their lives.”
Recalling the times she had to comfort the families of gun victims, NY State Attorney General James promised the community that they could rely on their elected officials and leaders to address the violence. But she also highlighted that arrests should not be the only solution to curb the rise in gun crimes.
She urged people to ask why a child has a gun and why teenagers join gangs, stressing that the vast majority of residents are law-abiding residents.
James said, “We gotta make sure that we invest in Brownsville, invest in East New York, invest in North Brooklyn. It is really critically important that resources are provided to these communities.”