‘Occupy The Corners:’ Al Sharpton, Community Leaders Seek End to Gun Violence
Summer headlines sparking renewed action to make streets, communities safer
NEW YORK CITY – Dozens of New Yorkers, state and local elected officials, and community activists stood with Rev. Al Sharpton late Friday night, to speak out against the summer gun violence claiming lives in the city and around the country.
The gatherings, now a growing movement known as “Occupy The Corners,” will be happening each weekend night for four weeks in 10 of the city boroughs’ most violent “hotspots.”
Organizers said they intend to spread the model around the country, and to refute the notion that residents of violence-plagued neighborhoods are all talk and no action.
“I am peace,” declared a group gathered at 129th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood, a largely minority community.
Half a dozen police officers stood watch over the group gathered in a circle, in front of Muddy Waters Café and across from the Salem United Methodist Church, where attendees took turns giving remarks.
“Whatever your status is, in your life and your position in this city, it has not been enough to stop our kids from dying,” said Street Corner Resources founder Iesha Sekou. “I had to tell my grandson [he] can’t come [to New York] this summer, because I’m scared to death."
Several other speakers echoed her sentiments, most of them recalling recent reports of senseless gun violence, including the late July murder of Lloyd “Chris” Morgan, a 4-year-old boy shot in the head by a stray bullet during a basketball tournament in New York’s Bronx borough.
Sharpton, who eulogized Morgan’s funeral earlier this month, said violence around the country – including the movie theater massacre in Colorado and the Sikh temple shooting rampage in Wisconsin – has played a tremendous role in bringing gun violence back to the consciousness of America.
“[The recent gun violence] shows that we are a culture out of control,” said Sharpton, an MSNBC host and founder of the National Action Network, one of the groups spearheading the corner gathering effort.
“We’re becoming accustomed to it,” Sharpton said of the gun violence. “One of the reasons that we started Occupy The Corners was so that regular people can start saying ‘we’re not going to be intimidated, we’re not going to be stopped from standing up ourselves.’”
Sharpton added that the coalition intended for the gathering to be a “grassroots” movement that spread across the country. Representatives of the National Action Network’s Detroit chapter were at the Harlem gathering to get training on how to duplicate Occupy The Corners in Michigan.
Local and state elected official, including City Comptroller Eric Liu, State Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Manhattan), former mayoral candidate Bill Thompson and former New York Gov. David Patterson, turned out to support the effort.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who also attended, said reports of violence this summer have seemed endless.
“Whatever we’ve done in the city, it is not enough. We have to do more and tonight is part of that effort,” Quinn said, before the event. “It’s important for all of us, particularly people who are in elected life, to do everything we can to send a message that we’re simply not going to relinquish the street corners of New York City to violence.”
Ellen Green, a 59-year-old lifelong resident of Harlem, stopped momentarily at the gathering but turned away after a few minutes, saying the speeches were making her tear up.
“We never had none of this growing up,” Green said. “[The kids] think gun violence is the only way to get attention.”
For four weeks, the gatherings will continue each weekend night, around the city, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET. On Saturday night, Sharpton will stand on the corner of Mother Gaston Boulevard and Sutter Ave, in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he grew up.