Focussing on the prevalence of gun violence in New York’s five boroughs, this project is an urban study which dates from 2012. Its purpose is to bring to public attention the grass- roots efforts to confront the problem. I believe that the process of documentation supports the efforts of those brave citizens and that public acknowledgement may lead to similar attempts across the city.
The S.O.S. initiative in Crown Heights (2012) and ManUp (2018) in East New York both operate adhering to the guidelines set by CureViolence, the group in Chicago which importantly defined their mission to reduce gun violence in terms of a sickness. A sickness requires identification, diagnosis and sensitive treatment, all of which characterise volunteer's activities in the communities I documented. Workers, often released prisoners and local pastors, practice routine canvassing in their catchment areas, organise Shooting Responses, memorial meetings, basketball tournaments and public forums for fathers and mothers. They provide a compassionate space within which empathetic communication reduces chronic stress. Attempts to change a troubled reality in the context of an impoverished community must be directed at different problems simultaneously. In 2015 I documented the Chabad Jewish community in Crown Heights trying to prevent street violence. They realize that the disintegration of traditional values results in the powerlessness of moral codes to guide the behaviour of their second generation. They, along with the active Christians in black communities, see the potential for both diagnosis and cure in a return to faith. Believing that a lack of spiritual values creates a vacuum which is too often filled by self-destructive behaviours, they invest in prevention. Inevitably, 2020 spelled the reversal of gains made by all grass- roots organisations. In Flatbush and Brownsville I witnessed the impact of national events on the community. Gun violence rocketed in the context of black communities’ conflicted views about the police since George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. More than 1000 shootings since the beginning of 2020 pointed to the need for a greater police presence that could work alongside an entrenched distrust of police intervention. Incendiary discourse coming from the White House contributed to a climate of distrust and disparity. Moreover, gun violence increased because of Covid 19’s restrictions on movement ,associated domestic pressure and general confusion. All grass-roots anti-violence movements will need to regroup in the wake of the legacy of 2020.