BATH BEACH – The community is calling for safer streets after seven-year-old Sama Ali was killed by a truck driver as she was crossing the street on her scooter last week.
The little girl had been riding her scooter on September 28, crossing Bay 23rd Street and Bath Avenue, when a man driving a 2015 GardaWorld Armored Truck struck her and killed her. Sama absolutely loved her scooter, her eldest brother Mahmoud Ali, 16, told us. “I just miss her, you know?” he said. “If there’s one thing, it would be the forgiving trait that she had in her. In which anything would happen and the next minute she would forgive you, she’d hug you. Everything about her was beautiful.”
Though little Sama is no longer alive, you can see bits and pieces of her in the ones that love her the most. You can see the soft curls of her hair in her brothers. You can see her dimple on the left side of her cheek in her mother, who also has one on the left side of her cheek. And you can see her calm nature in her father, who stood at the park in one spot the entire hour quietly listening to people talk about his daughter. He later said, “You can’t forget Sama. Sama is a part of my body.”
On Saturday, October 3, nearly 100 people gathered at Benson Playground to remember Sama and to call for safer streets. Sama is at least the 182nd person killed in traffic violence, and the ninth child to die on NYC streets to date in 2020. Her family was also in attendance. Her dad and three brothers stood the entire time; the dad with his arm around his youngest son, and his eldest son with his arm around him. Her mother sat on the bench with her swollen eyes, hugging those who came to pay their respects. The smallest coffins are indeed the heaviest.
“I find that it is truly during the times of difficulty that we reflect most upon the beliefs and values that we hold dear to our hearts. And in that, there may be a silver lining to the difficulties that we go through in this world, because nobody is spared a difficulty,” Sheikh AbdelRahman Badawy said. “We believe with certainty that this is not the last time we meet. And believe with certainty that this separation is only temporary and that we will meet again. So even as we grieve, and even as we mourn, and even as we feel sadness, we believe with certainty that Sama is in a better place awaiting her family.”
Sama was killed just a block away from the Muslim American Society (MAS) Youth Center. Taher Abdelhadi, a director at the Center, spoke some words on the behalf of the family. “They say thank you to the entire community. Everyone has really shown up and been that support and that foundation for them to stand on during this terrible time. We have a lot of our differences, whether it’s religion, whether it’s ethnicities, our political views, but at a difficult time like this, that’s when everyone’s true humanity shows up and their love for one another shows up and this is what the family has really felt. Sama was their princess. Sama was their life and she’s no longer there but as our imam stated, it’s not goodbye. They will be together in paradise by the will of Allah.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams encouraged using pain for a purpose.
“I am hoping we can use this to encourage our government to do more for safe streets because there are too many people… and too many young people losing their lives,” he said. “This is a park, a place where we know young people are going to be around. I encourage drivers to just take a second… If we all played our part, including the government, including drivers who are the most privileged on the road, you can do a lot to stop the pain we’re feeling.”
Just a five minute walk away from where Sama was killed, three-year-old Elnur Shavkator was riding his scooter and was crossing the Bay 25th Street and Benson Avenue in 2019, when a driver in a van made a right and struck the little boy. He was killed just days before Ramadan. And just one block away from Sama’s fatal crash, 56-year-old Alfiya Djuraeva was killed by a vehicle making a left turn on Bath Avenue and 20th Avenue in 2016. More recently, just yesterday, a four-year-old boy was struck by a driver while crossing the street on his scooter. He is now in critical condition. In the month of August alone, there were 105 reported motor vehicle collisions in the 62 precinct, which includes Bensonhurst, Mapleton, and Bath Beach, according to city-data. Executive Director at Transportation Alternatives Danny Harris called traffic violence is a disease that the city has a cure for.
“This disease that we have a cure for in traffic violence. These are not numbers. We are not here for a number. We here for a beautiful young girl whose blessed memory we should hold on to,” he said. “The excuses are always the same. We call it an accident, not a crash… The city gives us excuses and not truths when we ask for changes.”
One community member called for a speed bump or a speed camera in the area which is home to a youth center and a park. Even this early evening, kids were riding around in their bikes and scooters, just being kids.
“Maybe if there’s one thing we can get out of Sama’s memory, we can make sure her life and death are not in vain. This little girl, the innocence that’s there, the purity that’s there, we can find all of that in our hearts and it still exists somewhere in there,” Council Member Justin Brannan said. “When someone gets behind the wheel of a car and thinks they are the only person on the planet that matters, you can’t legislate that away. You can’t shrug your shoulders either and you cant look the other way. You have to do everything you can to make sure that doesn’t happen again for this community and for all of us in the city.”
State Senator Andrew Gounardes agreed and said that he will be following up with the city to work on “whatever safety measures we can put into place… We want to make sure it’s easy for drives to see people int eh crosswalks. We want to make sure we are removing every single obstacle to safety here in our neighborhood. It shouldn’t be just this block; it should be every single block.”