By Rita Joseph
The gun violence crisis is personal to me, as it’s impacted my life directly. I’ve lost friends and former students from PS 6 to gun violence, and last summer, my car was struck by stray bullets while parked outside my home.
I know I’m not alone in Brooklyn in having these experiences. Last year, almost 2,000 people were shot in the city. People of color, unsurprisingly, are overrepresented in this figure. The fight for Black Lives is inextricably tied to the fight against gun violence.
NYC must make stopping gun violence a priority. To begin with, we must aggressively utilize and strengthen programs that will alleviate the desperate circumstances that result in people considering using a gun. Poverty, trauma, and a lack of access to mental healthcare must all be addressed with policies such as increasing the minimum wage, establishing a permanent, city-wide mental health first responders unit, and increasing accessibility to social workers and psychologists in schools.
Increased levels of public welfare spending are linked to lower neighborhood homicide rates. That is why I support policies to reduce hunger, domestic violence, homelessness, and educational disparities that will help to limit violence by curbing the underlying causes.
At the same time, we must ensure that our young people do not fall victim to joining a gang. Gun violence consistently increases during the summer months, when our youth are out of school and do not have a structured way to spend their time. The city has a moral obligation to expand funding for summer and after-school programs for kids. These programs keep youth away from crime and help them foster friendships and support networks they will need to navigate the challenging social pressures in our neighborhoods. They are vital and they save lives.
If elected, I plan to use a significant portion of my office’s discretionary funding to support organizations that provide after-school and summer programming to young people in Central Brooklyn.
To this end, I also support Cure Violence programs, which have been successful in the past, to help reach kids, both inside and outside of school, at the highest risk of joining gangs. Cure Violence programs connect young men of color with peers who act as credible messengers to help reach kids who are distrustful of or resistant to other programs. They are proven to work, and we must utilize them.
Lastly, the NYPD has to do a better job in combating violent crimes. We need the NYPD to spend their time and energy on combating crimes like murders, rapes, and assaults, rather than petty ones like turnstile hopping (which disproportionately target Black and Brown people) or the recent 10 p.m. curfew enforcement in Washington Square Park.
Violent crime should get a thousand times more attention than turnstile jumping, for which over 200 arrests were already made in the first quarter of 2021. The NYPD needs to spend more time in the neighborhoods where violence is most prevalent, building trust and fostering meaningful connections, and less time enforcing victimless crimes. This process of building trust will be an immense challenge, but it is one that must be taken up.
While these programs and policies are critical, fixing gun violence is ultimately about fixing poverty. We know that increased education results in lower poverty rates. In NYC, our students have access to the greatest urban university in the world. CUNY propels six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League schools. I believe we can make CUNY even more accessible and affordable.
We need to make CUNY free for all NYC high school graduates and GED holders. CUNY holds a special place in my heart because so many of my former students went on to matriculate there. If we’re serious about lowering the poverty rate, then we must give our students the education they deserve.
As the mom of four Black boys, I go to bed every night praying that my sons don’t become the next Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin
Rita Joseph is a Democrat and teacher at PS6/Norma Adams Clemons Academy. She is running to represent District 40 in Brooklyn, comprised of Ditmas Park, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Lefferts Gardens