‘Occupy the Corner’ movement in Harlem looks to stop violence without more cops

Iesha Sekou, the founder Street Corner Resources, addressing a crowd at 143rd and Malcolm X Boulevard during another week of "occupy the Corner," a movement to reduce violent crime. (photo by Mark Hallum)

An uptick in crime in parts of Brooklyn and Harlem — paired with the movement to defund the police — has led to a different approach from communities of color hoping to stop the violence.

At the corner of 143rd Street and Malcolm X Boulevard on July 11, Iesha Sekou, the founder of Street Corner Resources, did what her organization has done for the past 18 weeks: allow the youth of Harlem to talk about how to make their community safer, sans NYPD. 

Among those on hand Saturday night to hear that message were Mayor Bill de Blasio and City First Lady Chirlane McCray.

“We’ve been meeting, talking about what we can do to end violence in our community,” Sekou said. “Oftentimes when you show up to a crime scene, you’re seeing what that looks like, but that’s not what it looks like when you’re at the funeral. It’s very ugly, so often times people don’t understand. This work can look glitzy and glamorous like right now, but the real work on the ground, what’s that look like? You wouldn’t even want to know what my eyes, my brain have seen.”

Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, Mayor Bill de Blasio and state Senator Brian Benjamin help Street Corner Resources ‘Occupy the Corner’ at 143rd Street and Malcolm X Boulevard on July 11. (Photo by Mark Hallum)


Mayor de Blasio, after getting heat from both sides for the city’s budget which is defunding NYPD by $1 billion, told the small crowd that in the short time left in his administration that they would support helping the community by taking steps toward self-improvement rather than more policing.

“This is about ownership. You own your community, no one can tell you what is right for your community,” de Blasio said. “One thing we should do at City Hall and One Police Plaza is listen to the community because the community knows how to protect itself.”

But the mayor’s support for passing the ball to neighborhoods to reduce crime only goes as far as his Take Back the Block initiative announced on Friday. This, according to the mayor, puts more cops at key intersections to prevent gun violence that continues to surge as the city rebounds from being the national epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite the increased police presence outlined in the Take Back the Block initiative, it is still touted by the administration as resident-led.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and state Senator Brian Benjamin help Street Corner Resources ‘Occupy the Corner’ at 143rd Street and Malcolm X Boulevard on July 11. (Photo by Mark Hallum)


According to state Senator Brian Benjamin, the northeast corner of the intersection has been the scene of multiple shootings recently. Despite this, Benjamin said more cops are not the answer.

“One of the things I told the mayor when we had a presser the other day was that more police don’t lead to more community safety, more love and resources to our community lead to more community safety,” Benjamin said. “It’s important that we face that because when shootings first tick-up, everyone’s first response is we need to send more police… There is a role for law enforcement, but the community has to be at the front of the line.”

Benjamin says the streets of communities needs to be reimagined where the youth have other more outlets that divert them away from gun violence, and that means residents stepping out of their comfort zones.

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