James Johnson, a Democratic City Council candidate for District 27, led a rally in Hollis on Friday, March 12, with community leaders — including clergy, small business owners, law enforcement and residents — to say “no more” to gun violence in southeast Queens after a fatal shooting outside a nearby liquor store.
The group gathered near the site of the shooting at 204-13 Hollis Ave. to denounce the violence and demand safer streets. In his call to action, Johnson told community members to hold themselves accountable and to take back their community.
“Instead of being reactionary, I want to be proactive and set the tone for this summer. We need to take back this block,” Johnson said. “We have homeowners here, we have business owners here, schools and churches.”
Police officers on Wednesday, March 11, arrested and charged Mark Watson, 24, of 201st Street, with murder and criminal possession of a weapon for allegedly pulling the trigger on a man during an apparent dispute, QNS reported.
On Tuesday, March 10, police officers from the 103rd Precinct found 33-year-old Christopher McKnight with a bullet wound to his chest. He was rushed to Jamaica Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
In the wake of the shooting, Hollis residents expressed the need for the community to take charge.
“I’ve never seen the nightmare that goes on at 205th and Hollis. This used to be such a beautiful area — we used to walk down here with manicured lawns, beautiful stores and friendly neighbors,” said Carolyn DeVore, 67, a Hollis native who owns DeVore Dance Center. “Now our kids are stepping over garbage, in fear of being attacked by people and numb from people being shot. We have to do something about it. The business owners and the homeowners have to do their share. My legacy is in this community. The senseless shootings have got to stop. Right now, two families are hurting.”
Raymond Ramos, who has been serving the community for 17 years through his organization called Project Hype, a male mentoring program, said they need to bring resources to the community so “young people don’t find themselves on this corner shooting dice.”
“We need to limit the amount of liquor stores and these other stores … that don’t deserve us and are not serving the community,” Ramos said. “There shouldn’t be a reason why there’s a liquor store on every block.”
Debra Hammond, owner of In the Chair Salon and In the Chair Barbershop, said more needs to be done for Hollis.
“We need to get behind people who are fighting for Hollis,” Hammond said.
Johnson, who has been an outspoken advocate for bringing equitable funding to provide resources to southeast Queens, said more community-led economic development projects will help to create more locally based entrepreneurs who are invested in the well-being of the community and to generate opportunities for residents.
“The only way to get there is if we have adequate resources to make it more feasible for locals to open up their own businesses that both reflect our communities and serve our communities in a positive way, not only through job readiness programs, but also via skilled-based jobs that are sources of living wages. We need businesses for us, by us!” Johnson said.