By BOBBIE BELL
State Senator James Sanders and a group of Queens community leaders on Thursday highlighted how the coronavirus outbreak has worsened another pandemic that has been overlooked for years: gun violence in black and brown communities.
“COVID has brought out a beast in all of us,” Kevin Livingston, President of 100 Suits for 100 Men Inc., said at virtual panel on Sanders’ FaceBook page.
For many of the panelists the topic was no abstraction, recalling how the problem had impacted them in a personal way.
Larry Smith, a community activist for social justice and civil rights, noted that one of his childhood friends had fallen victim to gun violence. While he might have been filled with resentment, he instead said, “We have to look at both sides of the gun.”
Rodney Green, of the Far Rockaway Youth Greek Council, also had lost someone close to him due to gun violence. “It was a mistaken identity,” he said.
Sanders cited CDC statistics showing gun violence as the number one killer of young people.
“People are angry and they don’t know how to displace their anger,” said Rosalyn Mason, program manager of Rock Safe Streets. “Trying to change that mindset is key.”
Another activist, Kenny Carter confessed that he once had pointed a gun at someone and also had been menaced with a gun “Thankfully I’ve never taken a life,” he said.
Some panelists bemoaned how the virus has caused youth programs to shut down, leaving kids idle and vulnerable.
“Kids are killing themselves because they have nothing to do with their time,” said Sanders.
“Summer youth employment wasn’t carried out the way it should have been,” said Jesutoyin Olabode, a youth leader of Rockaway Youth Task Force.
Not everyone agreed on how to solve the problem. For example some panelists favored gun buyback programs while others backed bullet buybacks.
Panelists feared that after the COVID-19 outbreak was conquered the pandemic of gun violence would again be forgotten. “The world is afflicted by the sensationalisms. Social media is using black people as clickbait,” said Brandon Jeffries, the director of Youth Services for Queens Defenders.