Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica), second from right, joins colleagues Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), left to right, Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), John Lewis (D-Ga.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) for a sit-in last week in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Photo courtesy U.S. House of Representatives.
BY TRONE DOWD
The political tension that followed the tragedy of Orlando is still being felt as local members of the House of Representatives took to City Hall last Friday, rallying for legislation that would make for stricter gun control across the country.
Since the Orlando massacre, in which 29-year-old Omar Mateen killed 49 people at LGBT nightclub Pulse, Republicans and Democrats found themselves immediately split on how to best prevent an attack of that magnitude from happening again. While the Democrats pointed to how easy it is for individuals like Mateen to purchase guns despite the federal government flagging him as a potential domestic danger, Republicans looked towards the failure to deal with militant Islam overseas as the direct cause.
The difference in philosophy caused ripples in the political process, culminating in a 26-hour long sit-in on the congressional house floor by Democrats calling for any kind of gun reform amongst legislators. Among those who participated in the sit in was legendary civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), as well as Southeast Queens’ own Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica). Meeks told the Press of Southeast Queens a little bit more about the sit-in as one of its chief organizers.
“Last week, House Democrats could no longer stomach our frustration with Republican leadership,” Meeks said. “After yet another gun violence tragedy, they refused to allow votes on modest gun safety measures. Led by Civil Rights legend Rep. John Lewis, a handful of Democratic members and I organically decided that we should stage a sit-in, calling attention to Republicans’ inaction.”
After the start of the protest, Meeks said that many in Washington came to join the fight.
“Over the twenty-six hour sit-in, we had over 170 Members of Congress and numerous senators come to the floor, join our efforts, and speak against gun violence,” he said. “Many of us stayed up all night.”
Meeks recalled that during the sit in, he personally only took an hour long break for himself.
When asked what the ultimate goal of the fight was Meeks said it was to bring attention to what many Democrats see as a long overdue issue that the country has not yet come to terms with. While, he was happy to see the support Democrats received, he agreed that there was more work to be done.
“A small part of what we aimed to do has been accomplished- raise awareness and exhibit the Democratic commitment to ending gun violence,” he said. “Moving forward though, we cannot do it alone. We need the help of everyday Americans who can pressure elected officials that have been stifling progress. Our ultimate goal is to make our nation safer and dramatically reduce the amount of gun deaths in our country. It has become all too common and I happen to think it is also preventable. We can do it, but we need your help.”
In an op-ed written shortly after the protest, Meeks explained why the actions seen nation wide is something that was important to the people who support him here in Queens.
“Back in New York, I will tell my constituents I was there,” Meeks said last week in his op-ed published on political website The Hill. “Years from now, I will tell my grandchildren I was there. I’ll tell them I sat next to civil-rights hero John Lewis and more than 170 other House Democrats, all of us exhausted but determined, as we educated the nation on civil disobedience, fighting for a cause in which we believed. By the time I recount this story, hopefully we will have achieved what we set out to do. To make this nation safer by keeping guns out of irresponsible and dangerous hands.”
In Southeast Queens, Leaders Continue the Fight
On Wednesday afternoon, Meeks, alongside a number of elected officials and local anti-violence advocacy group Life Camp took to the streets of Southeast Queens to protest Congress’ lack of action on the front of gun regulation and its affects on their community.
Just this past Saturday, a 30-year-old man was shot in the face on Sutphin Boulevard near 110th Road. Eyewitnesses say that they heard an argument coming from a nearby deli before hearing the shots and seeing the victim’s fiancee crying over his body. The victim was rushed to the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center shortly afterward. He suffered non-life threatening injuries and is expected to make a full recovery. Although the shooting was not fatal, it sparked a stir in the local political scene.
Southeast Queens has had it’s fair share of issues with gun violence, particularly affecting young Black men and women. The Rockaways, Jamaica and Hollis have all been areas known for gun violence. In recent years, due to the concern and action of city council and organizations like Life Camp, there has been an effort to bring an end to it all. Last December, Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and Life Camp celebrated a full year with no shootings along the Sutphin Boulevard corridor previously identified as a hotspot for gang violence. Just last week, Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) announced that there will be money put towards preventing gun fights before they happen as well as organizing gun buy back to incentivize keeping guns off the streets.
Wednesday, in addition to Wills whose district hosted the Congressman’s gathering of local leaders, Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) and Community Board 12 chair and state Senate hopeful Adrienne Adams stood united in pleading to the federal government to put the guns down.
“The horrors of gun-violence are not limited to the mass shootings we’ve witnessed in cities across the country over the last seventeen years since Columbine,” Wills said. “At least eighteen Chicagoans were shot in only the last twenty-four hours, including a four-year-old boy. Our South Jamaica community, itself, has benefited from an overall reduction in gun-violence over the last two years, and not a single shooting has occurred in more than 500 days within the particular area that is overseen by LIFE Camp. Still, the epidemic of gun-violence continues to plague far too many streets and neighborhoods. Whether the act be assault, domestic violence, suicide or terrorism, the common denominator in the majority of these incidents is a gun.”
Wills mentions that he and Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) are currently sponsoring a resolution to push Congress to allow research on gun violence as a public health issue.
“Gun violence is a disease that affects the victim’s family and the entire community,” Hyndman added. “Only by working together can we truly address this issue.”
In a fiery declaration, Adams denounced the violence across the nation and in Southeast Queens.
“We need for you to fight for our babies,” Adams said. “We need for you to fight for our generations. We need for you to fight for yourselves or else you too will have generations and not know what tomorrow will look like for your family. We need for your federal government to stand up. We are not asking nicely. We are demanding this because it is why we elected you.”
Kevin Livingston, local Southeast Queens entrepreneur and civic leader also shared his opinion on the matter.
“I’m tired of visiting families and seeing them burying loved ones,” Livingston said. “We have to make sure that Congress puts this at the forefront and passes legislations to get guns off our streets.”
Livingston also reminded his fellow Queens residents that solving this issue begins with the community itself.
“We all need to do our part as a community to make sure that they do what they need to do or else we vote them out of office,” he concluded.
After the electeds met, members of Life Camp marched towards 110th Road and Sutphin Boulevard where the shooting took place on Saturday to publically denounce violence in the community. Gaining the attention of nearby pedestrians, they made their call for action against gun violence both here in Southeast Queens and nationwide known to all within hear shot.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly