Calling for an end to gun violence
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
Tony Bennett might be better known for his 17 Grammy Awards than he is for his time in 1944 spent fighting in the Battle of the Bulge—the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States during World War II.
In that engagement, Americans suffered 89,000 casualties, and the Germans suffered over 100,000.
Bennett has called his experience in the Battle of the Bulge “a front-row seat in hell.”
It was during the Battle of the Bulge that the Nazis first introduced the Sturmgewehr 44, considered by many historians to be the first modern assault rifle.
If the Nazis had also invented the AK-47, which fires more rounds, it is easy to imagine that American casualties would have been greater.
Something is amiss, argue gun-control advocates, when American civilians have access these tools of war.
“I’m committed to eliminating all the assault weapons in America. Assault weapons are for war,” the 86-year-old singer said at a recent Harlem rally held by supporters of gun control. “We the people do not support the NRA (National Rifle Association).”
The Thurs., March 16 rally happened just days after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tabled a bill to ban the sale of assault weapons in the United States. Senator Reid has since reported that he will introduce a bill that will include provisions on background checks, school safety and the reporting of gun trafficking.
The Harlem rally brought together a broad coalition of activists, labor leaders, and members of the health care industry.
They supported the New York SAFE Act, which Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed into law, and urged similar legislation on a national level.
“As healthcare workers, we see the impact of gun violence every day, both in our emergency department in crisis and for ongoing care of children and young adults who have been permanently disabled as a result of gunshot wounds,” said Dr. Steven Safyer, President and CEO of Montefiore Medical Center said in a statement.
“We are going to claim our communities back and get the guns off the streets in the United States of America,” said Reverend Al Sharpton.
Also present were labor leaders, union activists, members of youth groups, and other concerned citizens.
Performers from the Repertory Impact Theater, a Harlem-based youth theater program, and I Am Peace, a branch of Street Corner Resources, provided message-infused hip-hop entertainment.
Pablo Vásquez is a member of The Washington Heights and Inwood Youth Council.
Vásquez reported that his cousin and his cousin’s friend were victims of gun violence, and that, in some areas of the city, he is afraid to walk down the street for fear that someone will be carrying a gun.
“It’s something that I always have in the back of my mind, that I have to be aware of my surroundings, that nobody is trying to harm me.”
Brandon Lora and Vianeli García, also of The Washington Heights and Inwood Youth Council, were also present.
“We have to stand for this. It’s kids killing kids. A lot of it is teen-on-teen violence, and it has to stop,” said Garcia.
The rally drew supporters and voices from all over the city.
Now a resident of Brooklyn, Annie Davis once lived in Harlem. It is where her son, Rocky, was shot dead in the head on his 24th birthday.
“He was out celebrating. I’ve had many mothers comfort me, and I pray to God that another mother doesn’t have to lose a child to gun violence,” she said, as she addressed the audience with tears streaming down her eyes.
Fatimah Roland lives downtown, and braved the cold hoping to help show the rest of the country that stricter gun control is needed everywhere, not just in New York.
“It’s been way too long, and way too many people have been killed. As a mother, I feel for other mothers, and as a sister, I feel for anyone who has lost someone to gun violence. And it’s bewildering to me that Harry Reid didn’t have a nerve to put it up for a vote, even though 92 percent of Americans are supporting this.”
Roland is glad that the SAFE Act was passed, though she said she did not necessarily feel any safer.
“I think it’s great,” said Roland, “but if they can buy these guns these guns nationally, we’re still targets.”