Inspired by the senseless murder of Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle, hundreds of current and former gang members joined anti-violence activists in the South Bronx on Sunday to march for peace.
"This right here is a historical event," said Aaron Jones, a violence interrupter for Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes, or G-MACC, who attended and spoke at the march. "We can teach each other how to love one another."
"We came out for the cause, to stop the senseless killings," said Shotgun Rob, a member of the Black Spades gang, whose said his real name was Robert Brunson.
"It happened in LA, but it was felt right here in New York," he added, referring to the Hussle's killing.
Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was a former member of the Rollin’ 60s Crips. A successful indie rapper, Hussle earned a Grammy nomination this year, and was widely respected for investing the fruits of his success back into his community in South LA—Hussle paid for funerals, donated money to build playgrounds, and gave jobs to people struggling to find work.
Hussle was shot to death March 31st while standing outside his South Los Angeles clothing store, The Marathon. Eric R. Holder Jr. has been charged with murder for killing Hussle, but Holder has pleaded not guilty, the AP reported.
Holder had a "dispute" with Hussle, LAPD Chief Michel R. Moore said at a news conference on April 2nd. Moore declined to detail what the dispute was about, but added: "Nipsey Hussle represents the enormity of the lives that we've lost."
"I am devastated with that, because this is a voice that was trying to help, it was investing in his community," Moore explained.
After Hussle's killing, gang leaders in Los Angeles arranged a ceasefire and different gangs marched together on April 5th in a show of unity.
Similarly, Sunday's march in the Bronx was called the "Kings Stop Killing Kings March." Several New York gangs set aside their differences to attend, including members of contemporary gangs like the Latin Kings, Bloods and Crips, as well as older gangs, like the Black Spades and the Peacemakers, all flagging their colors in solidarity.
Several violence intervention groups also attended, helping ensure the peace was kept. Besides G-MACC, these included Release the Grip, Save Our Streets Bronx, Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence and Crisis Management System.
"What's extraordinary is all the different gangs. Old gangs, new gangs," one attendee, William Stafford of the Bronx, said. "We gotta stop killing each other. It's time for change. This is just the beginning."
Anthony Alicea agreed. Alicea said he was a close friend of Lesandro "Junior" Guzman Feliz, who was stabbed and slashed to death in the Bronx in 2018. Prosecutors say that the 15-year-old was killed during a war between rival groups of the Trinitarios gang, and 14 men are being charged in relation to his death.
"Last year I lost my little brother," Alicea said. "It changed my perception of life. I need to help these kids and show them a better way."
After Junior’s murder, Governor Andrew Cuomo set aside $19 million to pay for “anti-gang” programs in the Bronx. While the murder rate in New York City has plummeted over the past few decades, the NYPD has blamed a recent spate of murders in Brooklyn on street gangs.
Many attendees of Sunday’s rally were women, including Tamika Mallory, one of the organizers of the 2017 Women's march in Washington, D.C. An LGBTQ contingent was in the crowd, and Mallory acknowledged them.
Marchers gathered at the intersection of Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse, a hallowed spot in Bronx history. It was the stomping grounds of both the real-life Fordham Baldies gang, immortalized by Richard Price in The Wanderers, as well as where then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy addressed a crowd in 1960.
From the intersection, the group headed south, led by a small bicycle-born cavalry and escorted by a squadron of NYPD vehicles. Marchers shouted anti-violence slogans down the Grand Concourse to the old Bronx criminal courthouse at 161st Street. Ruben Diaz, Jr., the Bronx Borough President, walked with the group, helping to hold a "Kings Stop Killing Kings" banner.
Some in the crowd were broadcasting live on social media, exhorting friends and followers to resolve disputes with mediation instead of violence.
One young man (who later declined to give a reporter his name) was overheard to say: "Direct call to all those banging. Bring it to the table. Bang the right way. Get with the OGs. Bring it to the table."
The sky turned grey by the time the group reached the old courthouse. As the men and women gathered on its majestic, collonaded steps, the sound of afternoon Yankee game echoed in the air. Members of the Nation of Islam in crisp blue uniforms and hats stood sentry all around.
Mysonne, known as “The N.Y. General” to his fans and social media followers, is an independent, Bronx-based MC who helped organize the march. From the steps of the old courthouse, with Diaz standing by his side, Mysonne said, "This isn't a march, it's a family reunion," before calling for a moment of silence.
When the moment was over he issued a challenge to all who where there.
"So I'm charging you to go back to your home. Go back to your block. Go back to your community. And mentor somebody. Make sure that your kings, identify as kings."