gun violence

Brownsville Demands Action in Wake of Mass Shooting

The Brownsville Playground on Aug. 9, 2019, weeks after mass shooting there.
The Brownsville Playground on Aug. 9, 2019, weeks after mass shooting there. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A day after a mass shooting at Brownsville’s annual Old Timers Day block party left one man dead and 11 other people wounded, a group of community organizers set into action.

The Brownsville Rapid Response Coalition (BRRC), created in response to the mass shooting, invited city and state elected officials, law enforcement authorities, various city agency representatives and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to identify common goals that would help heal the Brooklyn community and prevent more tragedies.

Minutes from the first two meetings, which were shared with THE CITY, show that local leaders proposed short- and long-term goals centered on mental health, neighborhood services and safety improvements — but without emphasizing community policing and existing criminal justice programs.

“The need for healing, bereavement, restorative and programmatic services is paramount,” the minutes say.

The grassroots organizers’ immediate objectives included getting the news media to recognize the July 27 violence as a mass shooting, organizing a memorial march and providing support to local senior centers.

So on Aug. 6, when Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged a $9 million budget boost for a NYCHA community center, and for local law enforcement and criminal justice efforts in the Brooklyn neighborhood, reactions were mixed.

Officials brought extra flood lights to Brownsville Park after a mass shooting. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“[The] BRRC supports the mayor’s funding allocations through the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice or through our new community center so long as it is indicative of a commitment to partnering with grassroot organizations and the communities they serve on the ground,” said Camara Jackson, the founder and executive director of Elite Learners Inc., one of the coalition members, in a statement to THE CITY.

Al Mathieu, the associate director of Brownsville Think Tank Matters, another coalition member, was more blunt.

“People see that $9 million are going to the community, thinking it’s going to reach them, but it won’t,” he told THE CITY.

Shooting Reversed Violence Decline

Police said they suspected the gunfire barrage that killed Jason Pagán was gang-related, and de Blasio initially declined to call the violence a mass shooting, angering many locals. Meanwhile, subsequent deadlier massacres from California to El Paso to Dayton overshadowed the Brownsville Playground shooting in the national news media.

The incident reversed the neighborhood’s gun violence decline. In the 73rd Precinct, which includes Brownsville, shootings were down 29% from last year until the Old Timers’ Day bloodshed, according to police data.

“Our hearts ache for Brownsville; but this community will be defined by resilience, not tragedy,” the mayor said in a statement. He made the Aug. 6 funding announcement at the Dr. Green Playground on Sutter Avenue, almost a mile away from the shooting site.

More than half the funds — $5.2 million — will go to renovate the Brownsville Houses Community Center, already part of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety (MAP), and $576,000 to hire additional workers there.

Brownsville's Steve Taylor, 69, wearing a Brownsville Rapid Response Coalition shirt, said he was concerned about how violence impacts young people in the neighborhood.
Brownsville’s Steve Taylor, 69, wearing a Brownsville Rapid Response Coalition shirt, said he was concerned about how violence impacts young people in the neighborhood. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The rest will go to public safety initiatives: crisis management programs run by the city’s Department of Health and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), NYPD lighting and security cameras around the Brownsville Playground, and additional funds for the 73 Precinct’s mobile trauma unit.

Some of the initiatives de Blasio announced are similar to the $150 million Brownsville Plan created by the Department of Housing and Preservation in June 2017.

A spokesperson for MOCJ said the two weren’t directly related but that the $9 million was a continuation and expansion of the City and community’s collective plan. He also said the plan the mayor announced is unrelated to the recommendations by the Brownsville Rapid Response Coalition.

“Expanding successful programs and improving infrastructure continues the ongoing work of residents, community and city partners to repair decades of disinvestment in the neighborhood and realize a collective vision for the future of Brownsville,” Colby Hamilton, the MOCJ spokesperson, told THE CITY.

‘Too Little, Too Late’

Residents generally praised funding for lights and security cameras, which have already sprung up near the shooting site. But some said they want more change, including training police to foster better relationships with residents.

“They’re not doing much, there’s too much harassment going on,” Shayte Bake, a 23-year-old sales rep, told THE CITY. “I’d like to see construction, trade… funding for things that are useful.”

“I don’t know if this goes as far as stopping the next shooting, but it helps,” Jeff Lightfoot, 64, a retired basketball coach whose best friend was shot in the attack, told THE CITY. “You want the mayor to be on top of things always so things like this won’t happen. So this is a bit too little, too late.”

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