By Sadef Ali Kully
As Peace Week took place across the city and borough, community leaders including Carol Maraj, mother of rapper Nicki Minaj, and police officials came together in downtown Jamaica to have a discussion about violence in their communities.
Every year from Jan. 15-22, Queens-based anti-violence non-profit LIFE Camp hosts and coordinates a weeklong series of events throughout the city in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of non-violence.
Peace Week began just a couple of weeks after the city’s last homicide of 2015, the fatal shooting of 16-year old Jihad Jackson in South Jamaica on New Year’s Eve.
LIFE Camp founder Erica Ford, who spoke at Jihad’s funeral and at the Jan. 21 panel discussion, has repeatedly said change comes from the community.
“If we can have one week of peace, then we can have two weeks of peace and so on,” Ford told the audience at the panel discussion at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning on 161st Street.
In December, Ford and LIFE Camp volunteers announced their target area for outreach within the boundaries of 111th and 118th avenues between 146th Street and Guy R. Brewer Boulevard. .
LIFE Camp volunteers said they go into the streets to mediate situations, keeping them from escalating into violent incidents as well as showing youth other paths.
“You live in this cage and you don’t realize what is going outside of the cage. I was running around and fighting, but it got boring,” Gerard ‘Blanca’ Campbell, a volunteer, said. “We try to take them out of their element and expose them to other things in the world.”
The panel discussion, moderated by community activist and criminal defense attorney Ali Najmi, was comprised of 103rd Precinct Capt. James Fey; Carol Maraj from the Carol Maraj Foundation, a nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence; and A.O Hogan from LIFE Camp, who spoke with community members about the factors surrounding domestic violence, gun violence and police relations.
Maraj raised her daughter, rapper Nicki Minaj, in South Jamaica near Rockaway Boulevard while trying to escape a violent relationship.
“I was dragged from a car and repeatedly punched in my face,” Maraj told a pin-drop silent crowd. “One day Nicki asked me, ‘Why would you let someone do that to you?’”
Maraj said that day her whole life was set on a different and positive path. She believes that if a child sees violence at home, that could lead to violence outside of the home. For victims she sent out this message, “I am standing before you and that should tell you there is hope.”
Many of the audience members took the chance to speak openly and honestly with a police official about interactions with police officers. Some shared their personal experiences with violence in their communities and with members of the NYPD.
Fey answered questions and also added that if any officers from the 103rd Precinct behaved unprofessionally, then it should be brought to his attention immediately.
“There are few opportunities for members of the community to hold the police accountable for any misconduct. Today was a rare opportunity and members of the audience seized on it,” Najmi said. “It shows how important the issue of police and community relations and police accountability is for the residents of Queens.”
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skull