Jarell Lewis, who lived in the Queensbridge Houses, was shot on Saturday, December 2. He was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he died from his injuries.
Two days later, police arrested 19-year-old Javyn McNish, who lives in Ravenswood Houses, and charged him with murder and criminal possession of a weapon.
Last Wednesday, community advocates and organizations gathered at the spot of Lewis’s death, and pleaded for an end to gun violence. Bishop Mitchell Taylor, CEO and founder of Urban Upbound, announced the launch of the “Murder No More” campaign in response to the shooting.
“It is a tragedy and a travesty that another young man has lost his life to gun violence,” Taylor said. “It’s important for us as a community, as a family of neighbors, to come together and say that we’re no longer going to stand on the sidelines and allow this kind of vicious, malicious, fatal activity to continue in our communities.”
“Murder No More” will begin as an ad campaign, placing anti-violence messages on bus shelters, train stations and other banners and posters. But Taylor said it will also consist of neighborhood leaders finding young people where they are and encouraging them to find other ways to solve disputes.
Taylor, who grew up in Queensbridge and said he knows firsthand the struggles public housing residents face to keep their families safe, said the campaign will be an effort undertaken by everyone: churches, temples, mosques, associations, clubs and elected officials.
“Everyone is at risk if we continue to allow things like this to happen,” he said.
He said shootings like this have become “common in our communities,” which has led residents to be complacent. He urged the community to make a “concerted and conscious effort to put our foot down” and come together for change.
“It can’t continue to be common,” Taylor said. “We should be outraged, incensed, upset. We should be marching.
“A lot of this has to do with what we do with our children at home,” he added. “We have to do a better job in supporting inner-city and urban parents and families so they can be a stronger support for their young people.”
Carol Wilkins, tenant association president at Ravenswood Houses, said she was on the verge of tears thinking about losing another life.
“I’m absolutely heartbroken that this young man lost his life,” she said. “We try everything to keep our residents secure and safe, for something like this to happen is devastating.”
She also implored young people to “put down the guns” and pick up books to read and learn instead.
“We won’t exist if this continues,” she said.
Annie Cotton-Morris, leader of the Woodside Houses, and Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses tenants association, gave similar messages. April Simpson, who leads the Queensbridge Houses, said residents should look at those who were killed as their own children.
“If we don’t put a stop to this, it’ll be our child next,” she said. “We cannot afford another life to be lost.”
Earlier this year, the Queensbridge community celebrated one year without a shooting in the country’s largest public housing complex. An integral part of that success was the work of 696 Build Queensbridge, an organization committed to ending gun violence.
The group uses a “Cure Violence” model to mediate conflicts on the streets immediately when they happen before someone pulls a trigger. It also connects high-risk community members with critical services.
K. Bain, founding director of 696 Build Queensbridge, which pays homage to the development’s six blocks and 96 buildings, said Lewis was one of the program’s participants. Though he initially “found refuge in the streets” like many youth, Lewis was in the process of change, Bain said.
“Slowly but surely, through a risk reduction plan we worked on with him, we saw him find employment,” he said. “We saw his attitude and his mindset change.”
Lewis even stepped into the 696 Build Queensbridge office the day before he was shot, Bain said, and was asked to speak to young people about his transformation.
“I miss my little brother, I know many do,” Bain said. “Everyone is in a state of grief. Queensbridge is not the same right now.
“We stand with you to make sure his life was not taken in vain,” he added.
Bain, along with Bishop Taylor and other leaders, said while Cure Violence programs are good, they’re not enough. They have to be enhanced with “inter-development movements” and collaboration.
“696 Build Queensbridge is a start, we can’t do it all,” Bain said. “We need an entire community to galvanize and come together to make these changes.”