Harlem domestic violence awareness march shines light on pervasive issue

A domestic violence awareness event was held in Harlem on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.
A domestic violence awareness event was held in Harlem on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. Photo Credit: Jillian Jorgensen

Harlem residents took to the streets on Monday to “Shine the Light” on domestic violence.

Community members, domestic abuse advocates and elected officials decked out in purple staged a simultaneous walk from four different points in Harlem, converging on the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building Plaza on West 125th Street for an event in support of survivors. 

With chants of “What do we want? Safe homes! When do we want them? Now!” and “No more silence, stop the violence,” filling the air, several dozen people crowded into the Plaza to demand New York State lawmakers pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act.

The bill, which would expand alternative sentencing in domestic violence cases and give judges the ability to resentence offenders who are already incarcerated when certain criteria is met, was introduced in 2013 but has not reached the Sentate or Assembly for a vote.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and event organizer Maribel Martinez-Gunter said it was important to draw attention to the issue in a community where domestic violence incident reports are “extraordinarily high.”

“There is a general consensus in New York City that the highest neighborhoods where domestic abuse incident reports happen are in upper Manhattan,” said Martinez-Gunter, who is the director of the family and immigration unit with Manhattan Legal Services.

From April to June, police responded to 886 domestic violence incident reports in the 32nd Precinct, which covers Central Harlem, according to NYPD statistics. The precinct had the highest number of calls for that time period in the entire borough.

But those numbers don’t account for people who don’t call police. “Many people don’t call police,” Martinez-Gunter added.

Central Harlem resident Dawn Jones, 51, said the annual Shine the Light event helps bring people together.

“I come from a domestic violence household,” she said as she stood on the Plaza. “This is a way to help those affected and feel good about being around the people with the same issue.”

The event – part of a campaign by the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and organized by the Upper Manhattan Domestic Violence Services Collaborative – used to take place in Times Square, but moved to Harlem four years ago. Martinez-Gunter said they wanted to bring the event to “the heart of our community.”

When organizers decided to bring the event to Harlem, they struggled with whether to keep the mood somber, but ultimately decided to make it a celebration of survivors and a show of solidarity, drawing inspiration from the community’s rich cultural vibe, Martinez-Gunter said.

“Harlem is rich with culture and music and dance and we tried to bring all those elements in because that’s how the community identifies itself,” she added. “Our main goal is to let people know, ‘we see you, you’re not walking by invisible to us. We’re here to help.’”

Attendees listened to upbeat music and held hands in a show of solidarity before hearing from several speakers.

With Rajvi Desai