CONEY ISLAND – “Hey, hey. Ho, Ho. Gun violence gotta go.” The Coney Island boardwalk reverberated with the sound of loud, powerful chants against gun violence during the March For Our Lives, last Saturday, March 24. The neighborhood march was just one of 800 marches across the nation, urging Congress to control guns and prevent mass shootings.
“We are tired. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere,” Dereck Latif Scott, co-founder of Operation Hood said. “And a child shot in Florida is like a child shot in Coney Island. A child being shot in Chicago is like a child being shot in Coney Island.”
Hundreds of Brooklynites swarmed the boardwalk near the infamous red Parachute Jump. Beyoncés “I was here” was heard through the loudspeakers at the beginning of the rally, organized by the Coney Island Anti Violence Collaborative (CIAVC), a non-profit organization and a coalition of Coney Island residents and politicians to address the issue of gun violence.
Speaking at the march was State Senator Diane Savino; District 47 Councilman Mark Treyger; the co-chair of CIAVC, Joe Herrera; a representative from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, Ari Kagan; activist and member of CIAVC, Mathylde Frontus; and students from Liberation Diploma Plus High School.
“Today we have gathered, and we call upon legislators, to pass a law to ban the sale of assault weapons, to end the sales of high capacity magazines, as well as close the background check loopholes on every gun sale,” Herrera riled up the crowd. “We know here in Coney Island we don’t manufacture guns, we don’t manufacture bullets. That comes from outside our community, and there is no way we want that in our community.”
In 2014, Herrera was on his way to a YMCA in Coney Island where his sons were playing basketball. He then saw an ambulance and heard that there was a shooting. He panicked and ran up the stairs to see that his kids were safe. “But then my heart hurt because someone else’s child was in that ambulance. I walked away from that YMCA saying someone has to do something about this,” he said.
Though the march was initiated after the shooting in Parkland, the speakers relayed the simple fact that Coney Island was also not immune to gun violence.
“I want everybody here to know that Coney Island has had our fair share of gun violence, and heartache, and disappointment over the years,” Frontus said. “This little community, which is known around the world, is a community of people and we have been hurting for years and years.”
“Gun violence has ravaged this community, we never had an article in the Times, we never got the press conference, but we’re OK, we’re getting it today,” she said. “We have been here, we’ve been dealing with this, we’ve been hurting, we’ve been traumatized. And now we’re standing up and we’re doing something about it. Brothers and sisters, enough is enough.”
Local activist Ronald Stewart, also known as Brother Ron, began his powerful speech with Rosa Parks:
“In the 60s, a woman by the name of Rosa Parks took a stand. And in the laws of physics that says for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In that equal and opposite reaction… her stand changed the landscape of America,” he said.
“In Parkland, a group of young people stood up and said no more shall gun violence take the lives of our young students that are trying to get an education,” he said. “There is a scripture that says a child shall lead them, and I’m telling you, our children are standing up today and they are leading us, and we must listen to them because America will not be the same anymore.”
Savino reiterated the purpose of the march, but she also spoke about how NY state has “led the way” for gun control with the NY SAFE Act, arguing that it was one of the strongest gun laws in the country.
“All the things that… Washington needs to do, we did right here in NY. We banned the sale of assault weapons,” she said. “We instituted strong background checks. We eliminated the opportunity for people with serious mental health issues to get a gun in NYS. And we took guns away from domestic violence abusers.”
But that is not enough, she said.
“NY is not an island unto itself. We are a state connected to the rest of this country. And what you can’t do in NY, you can do in Virginia, and it ain’t that hard to get to Virginia.”
A student from the Liberation Diploma High School shared a powerful poem he wrote for the National Student Walkout, titled “I Can’t Sleep.” It began with “I can’t sleep. I’ve got the darkest of bags under my eyes. I try to make sense of it all, but I still don’t see change.” He ended with, “I can’t sleep and I really wish I could because maybe in my dreams we’ll be safe like I thought we should.”
Councilman Treyger also spoke powerfully, while a Brooklynite screamed “Amen.”
“There are some who are saying that this latest student uprising/movement is a new phenomenon. It is not a new phenomenon. The only thing that’s new is there are more cameras and people paying attention,” he said. “But it shouldn’t take a massacre in a high school to get this level of attention.”
“My message to our young people and our families is this: we have to turn pain into purpose,” he said. “We must do more than march… we must make sure that all of our young people in our high schools register to vote.”
He criticized President Trump for calling for guns to be given to teachers in school. He referred to him as “tweeter-in-chief.” As a former public school teacher, Treyger gave his own suggestions.
“Let me tell you what our schools need. We need to be equipped with more guidance counselors, more social workers, more support staff. Listen to our children. The politicians and adults have done enough talking and enough tweeting. It’s time to listen to them.”
After the rally ended, young children, parents, and neighbors held their posters, while they chanted and marched on Coney Island.
“Our youth walk around with their friends on their t-shirts. We have attended way too many funerals,” Herrera said. “We have attended way too many shooting responses. Today we march for Parkland. Today we march for Coney Island. Today we march for our lives.”
You can view the entire live stream of the march right here.
Additional reporting by Liena Zagare.