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Bronx outraged at gun violence

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“We aren’t the problem,” 18-year old Christopher Hill told Bronx leaders and parents at the Bronx County Court Building on Monday, November 23. “We’re the solution.”

Hill, who belongs to the Banana Kelly High School-based non-violence group United Playaz, echoed Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who rather than blame Bronx teens for a spate of grisly murders, praised the borough’s straight-arrow sons and daughters. Diaz Jr. also paid his respects to family members of Bronx residents slain by trigger-happy thugs.

In September, a stray bullet killed 25-year old Aisha Santiago in Mott Haven. Santiago was on her way home from the Laundromat. In October, another stray bullet killed 92-year old Sadie Mitchell in Wakefield. Mitchell was headed to her kitchen for a snack.

And on Monday, November 16, a third stray bullet hit 15-year old Vada Vasquez in the head on Prospect Avenue as she walked home from school. Vasquez, who sustained serious brain damage, survived and may recover. Later on November 16, 19-year old Felix DelValle was shot and killed in Tremont. It appeared that the shooter meant to hit an older man, neighbors told reporters. On November 23, a “National Day of Outrage” to halt street violence, Diaz Jr. announced that he would establish a borough youth council and ask teens to help stop the gunplay.

“Some say these young men and women are lost,” Diaz Jr. thundered. “I beg to differ. These young men and women are so smart. These young men and women have ideas.”

The Bronx Day of Outrage began with a song performed by members of the White Plains Road Greater Faith Temple Church, and members of the clergy offered prayers. Bishop Angelo Rosario and Bishop Ronald Bailey urged Bronx residents to build warm communities rather than impersonal neighborhoods. The borough has experienced a revitalization of its infrastructure but won’t succeed until it has experienced a revitalization of its spirit as well, Diaz Jr. said.

Mott Haven resident Gloria Cruz, who founded the Bronx chapter of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence years ago, introduced a handful of parents devastated by street warfare. David Pacheco’s two-year old son was killed by a stray bullet on Easter Sunday 2006. Diana Rodriguez’ daughter was slain on Mother’s Day 2006.

“We need to get rid of the gangs,” said Leola Hayes, who lost a 16-year old son to gun violence.

Santiago’s mother, Yvette Montanez, warned Bronx parents to look through teens’ backpacks and dresser drawers, where guns are often hidden. Teens today shoot guns as if life were a video game, Montanez said.

Hill and United Playaz member Jeremy Jimenez want to expand the family-oriented group beyond Banana Kelly. They attempt to pull friends off the street. Raiacil Fernandez, 19, has had 13 friends slain.

“This has to stop,” Fernandez said.

Vasquez’ plight pushed legal gun owner and west Bronx community leader Sidney Flores to attend the Day of Outrage. Flores thinks there should be harsher sentences for “gun-toting thugs” and more neighborhood patrols.

“If you see something, say something,” he implored.

Diaz Jr. plans to cooperate with the Police Department and the Bronx District Attorney, and wants role models to preach non-violence in the borough’s tough neighborhoods. He praised teen Lisa Hayes, who offered Bronx adults a powerful lesson.

“When you see a kid on the street…reach out to them,” Hayes said. “Hug them. Don’t be scared of them.”

The Mary Mitchell Center in Tremont held a meeting to address gun violence on Tuesday, November 24.

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