By Jon Schuppe
MANHATTAN — Using borrowed hearses and empty caskets, anti-violence activists crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in a driving rain Wednesday to deliver a message to City Hall: that New Yorkers must unite to halt gun violence, especially when it involves children.
“It is time for us to make people aware that our children are dying,” organizer Erica Ford shouted to an estimated 200 people gathered at a “mock funeral” at the intersection of Park Place and Broadway.
Murders of all kinds are up about 15 percent this year, according to New York Police Department statistics. Shooting deaths and woundings have also increased, by about 4 percent. The spikes are bigger in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, including Harlem.
Authorities and activists blame much of the violence on the use of illegal guns smuggled to the city from other states. But they acknowledge that most of the killing is done by people from communities where the spikes are most acute. But not enough people seem to care, they say.
“This is a mock funeral, but it is not a mock reality for us,” said Ford, director of the nonprofit LifeCamp Inc.
In the crowd, people carried signs that read “Stop the Shooting," “I Love My Life,” and “Bury Da Beef, Not Ur Loved Ones.” Many wore T-shirts and lanyards with pictures of murdered friends and relatives.
Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and City Councilmembers Charles Barron of Brooklyn and Robert Jackson of upper Manhattan also attended.
The marchers represented all five boroughs and included clergy, community activists and members of motorcycle and custom-truck clubs. They met at the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge, with five hearses and caskets. Then, as the rain poured down, they made their way with a police escort to the Manhattan side, and walked past City Hall.
On their way to their rallying point near City Hall Park, they chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Stop the violence,” the voices echoing through the plaza of municipal buildings.
Safiya Bakari, 18, of Harlem, showed up with two friends and her mother, a member of a women's motorcycle club called the Blaque Pearls. Safiya wore two lanyards of young men who had recently been killed, and a T-shirt commemorating a third. One of the friends was Tyvon Corbett, who was shot to death in Harlem last year. He was 15 years old.
Bakari said much of the problem lies with groups of kids — she called them "teams," but police call them gangs — who align themselves by blocks and beef with each other over trivial matters.
"My generation is crazy," Bakari said. "There's too much violence going on, and our people are getting shot for the wrong reasons. "
Her mother, Aiyetoro Bakari, 40, who helped organize the march, said she hoped the march would snap people out of complacency.
"People in the neighborhood know what's going on but for whatever reason they're not spurred to action," she said.
"A lot of us have failed and its time to take ownership of our community and step up and do something."