Thirty three guns are now off New York’s streets thanks to a gun buyback held in Brooklyn on Saturday.
Men and women that arrived carrying firearms in bags left with $200 per gun after surrendering them, no questions asked. The event was hosted by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and the NYPD as the city faces an uptick in gun violence. It was the first buyback in the borough since 2016, which yielded 60 guns.
“You know we have too many guns in the streets, and this is probably the best thing to do,” said one Brooklyn resident who wished to remain anonymous after turning in a revolver. “Hand it over before anything goes down, and that makes New York more safer,” he said, a Blue Lives Matter hat atop his head.
His revolver and the other surrendered guns were inspected on-site, and later transported to a police lab for further inspection and cataloging, according to the District Attorney. After that, they will be melted down and destroyed.
In the days leading up to Saturday, Commissioner Dermot Shea announced the NYPD made 160 gun arrests — the most in 25 years — the previous week.
For District Attorney Gonzalez, the buyback was as much about preventing violence as it was connecting with the people dealing with its repercussions.
“Success is getting out the message that law enforcement cares about its community, that we don’t want to see anyone hurt by gun violence,” the Brooklyn native said. “It gives us a chance to tell the community we love ‘em.”
The event was held at St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York, located in the heart of the 75th Precinct. As of the week ending September 6, the Seven-Five has seen 74 shootings in 2020, up from 43 in 2019, according to CompStat data. Its 22 murders have already outpaced the 10 that occurred in 2019.
“I think it’s a powerful sign that the community is taking another step of advocacy to speak out and say, ‘We’re not going to go back to the bad old days,’” said Rev. David K. Brawley, Pastor of St. Paul.
The church’s campus takes up the bulk of the east side of Hendrix Street. Sistahs Who Vote, a group of its female parishioners, had just returned from a morning prayer walk when the buyback kicked off at 10 a.m. Members of Sistahs too young to vote wore pink masks that asked, Will You Vote For Me?
Cassandra Young has been a member of the church for thirty one years.
“St. Paul is not just part of the community—it is the community,” she said.
Rev. Brawley and his church are no strangers to partnering with law enforcement to foster stronger relationships between the police and the policed. He’s partnered with the Brooklyn DA’s office in the past on clearing low-level offense warrants, and wrote an op-ed with DA Gonzalez in August.
As New York continues to reckon with its criminal justice history while also battling an increase in crime, those relationships are proving to be vital.
“I think what faith institutions can do is hold the NYPD accountable. And you can only do that when you’re in a respectful relationship” said Rev. Brawley. “And that’s where we think we are right now.”
Brooklyn North Chief Judith Harrison oversees 10 precincts serving the neighborhoods of Brownsville, Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, and Williamsburg. Shootings this year across Brooklyn North are up 109% when compared to this time last year. Echoing Rev. Brawley, she said the buyback was about more than safety.
“Really the goal is also just to make sure that we have more opportunities to build public trust.”
Harrison said her command made 44 gun arrests across Brooklyn North the week before the buyback. She said most of the recent gun violence is gang- and crew-related.
“We’re also seeing retaliatory violence that has us very concerned,” she said.
The increase in violence has aroused concerns the city is returning to its murder-riddled past, and the fear of the old days permeated the streets of East New York on Saturday.
“The gun violence has become surreal,” said longtime resident Arleny Alvarado-McCalla. “You no longer have peace of mind when you’re sitting at home. And you wonder, ‘Am I even safe coming home from work?’”
Residents of East New York refuse to be defined by violence. Like every neighborhood, it has a good side and bad. Its people have been tested many times before, and they press on, confident and proud of their neighborhood. It is up to those in power — from the cops to the city council — to prove to the residents of East New York that they can be trusted.
“East New York is broken,” said Darma Diaz, a Democrat hoping to fill the neighborhood’s vacant city council seat.
“And if elected officials can’t come together, how can we wipe anybody else’s tears and fix a broken society?”