HARLEM — Elevit Perez said he felt compelled to speak up at Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's march against violent crime in East Harlem Wednesday afternoon.
As a student at an East Harlem high school, he says he was attacked by gang members who wrongly thought he was a rival because he is Mexican.
"That's how it is around here. They assume you are in a gang. They consider you a threat," said Perez, 17, who teared up as he told his story to roughly 100 participants in the march, who rallied at East 106th Street and Third Avenue after making their way down Second Avenue.
Perez's mother helped him transfer to another school and now the senior at Norman Thomas High School plans to attend Marymount Manhattan College in the fall to study biology and neuroscience.
"We need more motivation for young people to speak out," said Perez.
Stringer, a mayoral hopeful, said the march was necessary because of a rise in violent crime in East Harlem.
Violent crime in the 23rd precinct has increased 22 percent compared to this time last year while it has increased 20 percent in the nearby 25th precinct, said Stringer.
"We are tired of burying our young people because of gun violence," said Stringer.
Joining Stringer at the march were several members of the City Council, including Melissa Mark-Viverito, Robert Jackson, Dan Garodnick, Jessica Lappin along with state representatives Bill Perkins, Adriano Espaillat and Robert Rodriguez.
"It's important to rally the troops to stand up against violence in or community," said Jackson, who said his brother was stabbed to death in 1975. "Violence stays with the family for the rest of our lives. You never forget when violence strikes a member of your family."
Several elected officials also spoke out against the NYPD's controversial stop and frisk policy.
"Violence is not just physical. Sometimes when a young man or woman is pushed up against a wall their spirit can be broken. That's violence too," said Espaillat.
Perkins said the flow of guns from southern states into urban areas like New York City must be stopped to make a dent in the violence.
Mark-Viverito said bringing resources to the community will help deter violence.
"We want opportunities for young people to fulfill the potential they have," she said.
"You can do something. You can volunteer and recapture your neighborhood," Williams said.
Cesar Vasquez, president of the 23rd Precinct Council, said parents have to step up.
"We need to start taking charge of our children or we will keep losing them," said Vasquez.
It's a sentiment Perez understands from experience.
"I couldn't concentrate in school. I feared for my life every day," said Perez. "We have to stop the violence and make our schools, streets and neighborhoods safe."