Davell Samuel Earl Gardner Jr. would be celebrating his second birthday in September. He’d be grasping his bright red Elmo doll, golden brown Teddy bear with crimson bow and probably watching Teletubbies on TV and playing with his mom.
Instead, Elmo and Teddy were sitting side-by-side next to his ashen coffin, white flower arrangements on either side – the normally exuberant young boy was silent as children’s religious tunes played melodiously – a random bullet at a Bedford Stuyvesant cook-out on July 12 saw to it.
Gardner, referred to affectionately by family members as “Applehead,” was laid out for his wake at the Lawrence Woodward Funeral Home on Troy Avenue in Bed Stuyvesant on Sunday for his family and the community to pay tribute to his passing, but also to remind neighbors of the horror of street violence.
At least one other young man was on crutches, his recent wound to the legs evident after the last two months of shootings. It wasn’t something he wanted to talk about as in most cases, the gunman was still on the loose.
Some family members embraced and wept, mom sat in the front row staring silently at her young son, who was one of five people shot on July 12 at the normally tranquil Raymond Bush Park. The baby is one of scores of people killed by gun violence since the beginning of June, all of them were people of color.
“It’s so sad to see a 1-year-old in a casket, his future is gone,” said Bishop David Maldonado who has been working with motorcycle clubs to visit sites where young people hang out to talk with them about street violence.
“This child won’t celebrate his birthday and we need people to put down the gun and stop the violence now,” he added.
Sabrina Gardner-Pratt, sister of the mother of the child, gathered with peace advocates, including members of the Godsquad, a group of volunteers who are conducting outreach to reach young people to “stop the violence”
“Its crazy – it needs to stop, but every day you hear and that’s so hard – people need to put the guns down. You are killing innocent babies and you need to stop,” Gardner-Pratt said.
She said the family is seeking to find the people responsible for the shooting, but she said, “he’s gone, nothing will bring him back to us.”
Tomorrow, the funeral will be held at Pleasant Grove Tabernacle Church on Fulton Street where the Rev. Al Sharpton will be present to delivery a eulogy. She said the family is preparing, but “nobody can prepare for this – it’s just really hard – we want to honor his name so he didn’t die in vain, but we need to also advocate more to stop the gun violence.”
Mike Tucker, founder of Lay Your Guns Down Foundation and member of the Godsquad, expressed disappointment that more people weren’t present for the wake.
“If this doesn’t change the way everybody feels, then you are heartless, this is the saddest thing in the world,” said Tucker who lost his son to gun violence by a police officer in 2005. “This young family has to go through this, and people just take it in like its not serious. I don’t understand why people are not outraged and out in the streets. People were out in the streets for Black Lives Matter, they were upset with the way things were going on. Myself who lost a son to gun violence, I explained this will be hard, but unfortunately, you will be speaking helping another family out, but this has to be the end of gun violence and our elected officials must understand people cant keep going through this.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams visited the family and viewed the young boy in the coffin. He said there isn’t one way to bring down gun violence. See video here:
Howard Wright, a new member of the motorcycle clubs that are doing outreach to young people, expressed anger that the violence has continued on the streets. He blamed the release of hardened criminals from Rikers Island during the Covid-19 pandemic for the rise in shootings.
“They let too many people out of Rikers because of the Covid stuff, especially those guys who keep repeating their crimes,” Wright said. “I have a daughter in her 20’s and I worry about her every day especially when you hear young women raped in a park or old ladies robbed and attacked. These people just don’t care.”