‘Guns down, life up’: Brooklyn vigil attendees honor gun violence victims, demand end to bloodshed

Brooklyn vigil for gun violence victims
A mother who lost both her sons to gun violence reads the names of homicide victims. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Scores of New Yorkers gathered outside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Friday for the first “National Day of Remembrance for Gun-Related Homicide Victims” vigil — mourning those killed at the hands of armed criminals and demanding an end to the bloodshed.

Mayor Eric Adams and Andre “AT” Mitchell, the city’s gun violence czar, were among those who took part in the event, along with families and friends of victims, numerous anti-violence organizations, and local and NYPD officials. In a show of solidarity, cities across the nation, like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Baltimore, to name a few, joined the call for an end to gun violence. 

The ceremony included the release of white doves  — signifying the hope for peace in the new year — an array of speeches and the reading of the names of those who perished due to gun violence in 2022. 

Those who read the names of the victims included Dominique Simmons, the mother of 15-year-old Unique Smith, who was shot dead inside McLaughlin Park in Downtown Brooklyn after his first day of school; Ray Holder, the father of 19-year-old teacher’s aide Ethan Holder, who was shot and killed while walking home from school; and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell alongside NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, who read the names of the NYPD detectives Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora who were shot and killed in an ambush last January. 

Mitchell, who also serves as executive director of the nonprofit Man Up Inc., explained that he used to hold a similar event in East New York on New Year’s Eve, honoring the lives lost to violence. 

“I just wanted to do the same sort of practice that we did in the neighborhood on a citywide level,” Mitchell said. 

While the number of murders in New York City is down by 13.1% in 2022 compared to 2021, Mitchell emphasized that “we are still not out of the woods” and that gun violence is still an issue that plagues many communities.

Addressing the families who lost loved ones to senseless violence, Mitchell said, “We didn’t want 2022 to go out without paying homage, without paying respect and attention to some of the families. This New Year’s is not going to be so happy for a number of families around this time of year. We wanted them to know that you had support.”

An anti-violence activist wears a mask urging to lay down the guns. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
White doves are released in memory of homicide victims. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
NYC Mayor Eric Adams speaks at National Day of Remembrance for Gun Related Homicide Victims in Brooklyn, NY, on Dec. 30, 2022. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Mayor Adams was unapologetic about the city’s approach to using a combination of intervention and prevention in tackling violence. He stressed that holding criminals accountable while at the same time investing in underserved communities with education, summer programs, and job opportunities was key to getting rid of violence. 

“Trauma does not stop when it hits the body of the person,” Adams said. “It rips apart the anatomy of our community.”

“So I don’t want to hear the noise. I don’t wanna hear the noise that Eric is just trying to lock up our people,” Adams said. “No, I’m trying to protect our people because I’m not talking about a life I read about. I’m talking about the life that I live, and I know how the city has abandoned us and abandoned black and brown people in general.”

Sewell shared that  New York City had seen a decrease in shootings and homicides in 2022 but also said that this was “cold comfort” to those who had lost a family member and friend to gun violence. She promised that the NYPD was committed to supporting crisis managers and violence interrupters. 

“While we can never replace the loss of your loved ones, know that the NYPD is deeply committed to working with all of you,” Sewell said. “It is up to all of us, no matter who we are, no matter where we come from, to build a stronger and safer city. It is up to us to make sure that those who would do us harm do not win.” 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams called on the media to shift their focus from the mayor’s “sound bites” and report about how all city agencies and communities are working together to address gun violence. 

“You have the mayor, your public advocate, the police commissioner, the deputy mayor; you have AT Mitchell, you have all of the community here aligned screaming that people are dying,” Williams said. “They’re dying by a preventable pandemic.” 

Anti-violence activists attend the event outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
Grieving family members read the names of homicide victims. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann
Dominque Simmons, the mother of 15-year-old Unique Smith, who was killed in Brooklyn on Sept. 7, 2022, reads the names of homicide victims. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

Williams pointed out that communities with the most gun violence saw the most policing and arrests. 

“I want to be clear about that. Because those two things don’t equal safety,” Williams said. “But it doesn’t mean they don’t have a part to play either. So stop giving the either or because it’s not necessary. What we have to understand is everybody has to play their part. We have to get these guns off the street, and we have to help people understand to not make a permanent answer for a temporary problem.”

Mike Perry and Julian Ansah, “True to Life” members, came from Staten Island to show their support. Perry and Ansah shared that their outreach program includes violence interrupters, hospital responders, and outreach workers to prevent and de-escalate violence. 

“We know what the mindset is like to perpetuate violence, and we know what it takes to stop it,” Perry said. 

Ansah added that they act as a medium when the community doesn’t want to deal with the police. 

“So they’ll deal with us and use our organization to help de-escalate situations in the neighborhood,” Ansah said. 

The organization also works with partners on Staten Island, offering young people job training. 

“We have alternatives to help young people, and that’s what this is really about,” Perry said. “Providing alternatives for young people, an alternative to a violent lifestyle. We come from that world. We survived it. So we are their best example to be able to progress in life.”