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Activists honor MLK with Peace Week events

Penny Wrencher (front) speaks about the killing of her son Aundre Hakim and the need for community-based solutions to gun violence at a Peace Week event on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo setting the stage for passage of the nation’s toughest gun laws in Albany, southeast Queens activists Monday announced the program for an annual peace event, which has taken an alternative approach to ending violence long before the Sandy Hook massacre trained the nation’s attention on the subject.

In what he outlined in his State of the State address to reclaim the title of nation’s progressive beacon following the killing of 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school in December, Cuomo laid out a seven-point plan to strengthen the state’s gun-control measures. The Legislature passed a ban on assault weapons and other gun regulations Tuesday.

Standing on the steps of City Hall Monday morning, activists said gun control is all well and good, but young men of color have been dying in places like Chicago, East New York and southeast Queens for a long time, and the causes are more systemic than simply the presence of guns.

“This is a public health issue,” said Erica Ford, founder of the activist group LIFE Camp.

Ford said the problem is that many youth do not understand how to resolve conflicts, or the pains that come from living in broken neighborhoods without turning to violence.

In fact, Ford was part of a City Council task force convened last year to address gun violence and will head a pilot program in southeast Queens to help youngsters learn how to cope with conflict. She repeated adages like “hurt people hurt people” and “look at both sides of the pistol,” but the activist could have used an axiom repeated by an unlikely group of allies.

Whereas gun-rights activists say “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” the leaders on the steps of City Hall said that while it would be nice to get guns off the streets, it would be better to eliminate the roots of what causes a young person to pick up a firearm in the first place.

“I don’t need guns in schools,” said Penny Wrencher, whose son Aundre Hakim was killed in 2009. “We need mentoring. We need counseling.”

Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn), who co-chaired the Council’s task force, said it was bittersweet that the city was finally putting in money for a prevention pilot program.

He said the fact that the conversation around Newtown, Conn., shooter Adam Lanza focused on his mental health status stood in stark contrast to the language of “savages” and “animals” used to describe inner-city youth.

He was joined by Councilmen Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) as well as hip-hop mogul Russel Simmons in launching Peace Week, which honors Dr. Martin Luther King’s spirit of non-violence.

Peace Week runs through Feb. 1 and features events throughout the city, such as a festival at the Child Center of NY in South Ozone Park Jan. 21.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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