A somber crowd reeling from local gun violence in Brooklyn and back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend gathered at Grand Army Plaza on Monday evening to listen to elected officials, faith leaders, and activists speak about stopping gun violence.
Beyond calling for national gun-control measures, many speakers focused their remarks on denouncing white supremacy, drawing loud cheers from the crowd. They pointed to white supremacy as the cause of mass shootings like the one in El Paso, which was carried out by a man who allegedly wrote that he was responding to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and as the reason why gun violence in neighborhoods like Brownsville doesn’t receive the same response as other types of shootings.
In her speech, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said legislation should be passed making it easier for the FBI to investigate and crack down on “white supremacist terrorism.”
She also dedicated a portion of her speech to directly addressing people who “are falling into the grips of white supremacy that find themselves getting radicalized in a funnel of vitriol.”
“We will always be here and hold space for you to come back,” she said. “We will love you back. You are not too far gone.”
Some local politicians and activists called out the fact that gun violence in neighborhoods like Brownsville, where a mass shooting broke out during Old Timers Day last week, does not gain the same media attention and resources as high-profile mass shootings like the ones that occurred over the weekend. One person was killed and 11 injured at the Old Timers Day festival. Another four people were injured in a shooting that interrupted a vigil in Crown Heights early Monday morning, and a 15-year-old was shot in the chest in Brownsville later in the day.
“If the shooting in Brownsville would have happened on Park Avenue and not Park Place we would have had a different response in this city and this country,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
He added that while measures such as a ban on assault rifles are a good idea, they won’t address the majority of gun violence in the country. “If you focus on the number of deaths in this country due to gun violence, a small number happen through assault rifles and a large number happen through hand guns,” Adams said. “All of them are wrong but you can’t place 90 percent of the energy towards 10 percent of the problem.”
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez mentioned a range of legislation at the national level to address what she called “the many different issues that are weaving themselves into a braid of violence throughout our country.”
She noted that a bill to reauthorize and expand rules preventing domestic abusers from owning guns and a bill to increase background check requirements when guns are passed between private owners have both passed the House this year. However, like many gun-control measures in the past, they have been held up in the Senate.
State Attorney General Letitia James called on attendees at the vigil to take action. She suggested texting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and even taking time off work to knock on doors and register voters in other states.
But some in attendance said they felt uncertain about how to contribute to the cause.
“I was a teacher in the Bronx when a lot of things were going on and some of my students got shot,” said Natasha Green, an attendee at the vigil who said she now works in tech. “Someone in my family got shot. So, I feel like, God, I wish I was doing more, but what is ‘more’?”
For many, this is a moment that feels like a big enough crisis to create a turning point. Yet, it’s far from the first such moment that has failed to deliver meaningful change.
Brigid McGinn attended Monday night’s vigil with the group Gays Against Guns, which formed after 49 people died and 53 were wounded in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016.
“At our first meeting, we overflowed,” said McGinn. “Over 300 people showed up to meet with us and we thought, for sure, we were going to make things happen.”
While McGinn says “we’ve had some baby steps,” she says she still wants to see measures such as stronger background checks and gun licensing, a ban on assault weapons and getting money from the National Rifle Association out of politics.
“Unfortunately, with every mass massacre and every group that has formed after every mass massacre we’ve gained more momentum,” she said. “I’ve always been told it’s only in crisis and frustration that change can happen. I just am really fearful of the chaos we’re in right now. I don’t know how much more deadly and chaotic it has to get until our government takes proper action.”