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Harlem Residents Fed Up With Gun Violence Plan Protest Walks

By Jeff Mays | August 7, 2012 7:40am

HARLEM — After a shooting at Rucker Park last month left five people shot, the Rev. Al Taylor grew tired of people saying something needed to be done about the violence.

Taylor, pastor of Infinity Mennonite Church, decided to start an evening walk through the Polo Grounds Houses and other public housing complexes near Rucker Park to take back the streets.

"When people said something needed to be done, I said, 'Do you have an hour?'" he said. "Put up or shut up."

Starting Tuesday night, which is National Night Out Against Crime, Taylor and members of the Harlem community intend to walk from Frederick Douglass Boulevard and West 154th Street to West 159th Street.

The walk is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and go through midnight every day until Labor Day, September 3.

The area encompasses Rucker Park, where the Entertainers Basketball Classic is held. Across the street are the Polo Grounds Houses and Rangel Houses. The goal is to engage residents and provide a sense of safety and security.

"Let's reintroduce ourselves to this community," Taylor said. "We've got to tear down these walls of silence."

NYPD Inspector Rodney Harrison, commander of the 32nd Precinct in Harlem, which polices Rucker Park, said many of the 17 shootings this year remain unsolved because of a lack of willingness by the community to cooperate with police.

Rhonda Bennett, a resident of the Polo Grounds Houses, was one of the first to sign up to participate in the walk. Her son Dajuan Bennett, 21, a student and player in the Entertainers Basketball Classic, was shot in the leg in last month's shooting.

"I was hysterical. To see my child shot, that's when I went crazy," she said.

Bennett hopes the daily walks motivate people in the community to stop shooting one another.

"I hope it brings everyone together to realize we need to stop the violence," she added.

Juanita Dean Morgan, a resident of Rangel Houses, lost sons William and Leon to gun violence in 1990 and 1999, respectively.

"All these shootings bring back so many memories," a teary-eyed Morgan said. "I'll be right here tomorrow. I hope this works."

Rev. Vernon Williams, president of the Harlem Clergy Community Leaders Coalition and Perfect Peace Ministries, said troubled kids take notice when the community step ups.

After a recent march through seven believed gang territories, Williams said it wasn't lost on the alleged gangsters that among the demonstration's participants were their own parents and grandparents.

"We are going to let it be known that the community is not taking this anymore," said Williams.

Taylor also has led a weekly early morning prayer walk around the Polo Grounds with Man Up in Harlem, which begins at 6 a.m. every Thursday. That effort started following a spate of violence a few years ago.

After the walks began, the violence decreased, Taylor claimed.

"We need to let our children know that violence does not work," said Barbara Williams, president of the Polo Grounds Residents Association. "It sends the message to let people who are doing the crime know that we are watching."

Jackie Rowe-Adams, co-founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., said she hopes the efforts serve as a wake-up call.

"We can't bring our kids back," said Rowe-Adams, who also lost two sons to gun violence. "But we can try to help another mother's child."

Contact Man Up in Harlem or (646) 418-8000 for more information.