Vowing to uplift the depressed and callously hopeless attitudes of far too many young people roaming the streets of New York City’s inner city neighborhoods, the Rev. Al Sharpton has pledged to launch his “occupy the corners” movement in earnest later this week.
Beginning Friday, Aug. 17 and running for four consecutive weekends, Sharpton, members of his National Action Network organization (NAN), politicians, church leaders and other community activist will commence “occupying” city street corners where violence has become all too prevalent.
Loosely based on the tenements of the Occupy Wall Street movement, OTC interventions will consist of organizers engaging residents, responding to instances of trouble or violence and ultimately “taking our streets back.” City-wide patrols will commence around 11 p.m. and span well past midnight to approximately 1 a.m. each weekend.
“OTC is not a patrol,” Sharpton stressed, “but an opportunity to show strong, real-life neighborly support in our communities most plagued by gun violence. I want to spread a climate in our community, so that young people say, 'What are they doing out there every weekend?' They're out there because of the guns. A lot of our young people don’t think anybody cares. We need a presence. You can’t lead where you don’t go.”
With that in mind, one of organizers’ initial and primary targets will be the confines of the New York Housing Authority (NYCHA) and its bursting-at-the-seams 600,000 plus residents— large enough to rate that populous along among the nation’s 25 largest cities.
Over the past year, shootings have risen by 27 percent in NYCHA developments, with little signs of any of the violence dissipating, including a pair of recent toddler-aged shootings that have shaken the fiber of the entire country.
“There are no dedicated dollars being funded anymore for security or violence in the NYCHA,” said NYC Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea in stressing that he attributes much of the runaway problem to that very neglect. “The existing neighborhood associations need all the help they can get.”
Enter Sharpton and Co., whose leaders have also pinpointed a plan of soliciting more aid from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other top city officials in the form of funding for community programs and services. Sharpton added OTC also plans to press Bloomberg in engaging in further efforts to secure private funding for such developments as well.
"We need to stand up and tell everyone that enough is enough," Sharpton trumpeted during a press conference held at NAN’s Central West Harlem offices, attended by Rhea and the likes of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, NYC Councilwoman Letitia James, local NAACP president Hazel Dukes and NYC City comptroller John C. Liu.
“But it runs deeper than gun control and stop and frisk,” Sharpton also chastised the crowd. “We need to show love and respect to each other,” he said. “We need to put pressure on government and Mayor Bloomberg to deal with this… but we need to stop this, and stop it now.”
The most recent rallying cry stems from the tragic tale of 4-year-old Lloyd Morgan Jr. Alternately and affectionately known by family and friends as “Obama” or “LeBron,” Morgan died of a gunshot wound to the head last month after being hit by a stray bullet outside his Morrisania home while watching a playground basketball game with his father. Police have since charged three men, two of them teenagers, in connection with the shooting.
At the NAN rally, Sharpton was joined by Shianne Norman, young Morgan’s 27-year-old grief-stricken yet determined mother. “I want to use my son’s name and my voice to make sure something like this never happens again,” she said. “It’s senseless. My baby is gone…I just want to know what happened.”
Lloyd Morgan Jr. thus became the second child under the age of five shot on a city playground in less than a two week span, tragically joining three-year-old Isaiah Rivera who was hit in the right leg and by bullet fragments when wayward gunfire broke out near his Roosevelt Houses, Bedford-Stuyvesant home in broad daylight just days earlier.
Mere days ago, more than a hundred residents turned up outside the Bronx office of Council Speaker Christine Quinn to memorialize Morgan and demand an end to all the violence.
"Yes, a lot of guns are coming from the South, but the South is not having this type of behavior because there's a different presence there from the community and the police and the correlation between the two," said Sharpton.
Over the next week, NAN and its coalition members plan to release more information regarding upcoming OTC demonstrations as well as stage calls for additional neighborhood volunteers to participate.
“We need tried and true soldiers. We don’t need a whole lot of talk. We need you to take your corner,” added Dukes.
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.