Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

The parents of slain southeast Queens youth marched alongside anti-violence activists, including hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, in South Jamaica Sunday to call for an end to the gun violence that has long plagued the area and intensified over the summer.

Hundreds of people, many clad in orange as part of a global peace initiative, marched from Sutphin Boulevard and 111th Street to the Baisley Houses, shouting slogans and reaching out to sometimes puzzled onlookers watching the procession.

“We are in Baisley Houses because we have lost too many children,” said Erica Ford, one of the organizers of the event. “We want to create an environment of safety. It’s not only about getting the guns off the streets. It’s also about putting therapeutic programs in the community.”

Ford, who runs an anti-violence group aimed at reaching young men and women in the community called I Love My Life, partnered with The Peacekeepers Global Initiative to host the march.

The Peacekeepers initiative was started by a man named Capt. Dennis Muhammad in New Orleans to engage communities in making their anti-violence stance known. The Peacekeepers, as anyone who pledges to be a part of the initiative are called, wear neon orange shirts and hats and have chapters all over the world.

“Orange is a color that is bright — you want people to see you,” Muhammad said. “But it is also a color of caution. And when you see something that is under construction, you see orange.”

Homeowners who peeked their heads out of windows and residents of Baisley Houses who gathered at the basketball courts, along with sharply dressed members of the Nation of Islam, got to see plenty of orange.

Shanta Merritt, whose son Darryl Adams was murdered March 2, spoke at the event.

“I want to be a voice for my son. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” she said.

Word quickly spread that Simmons, who founded the seminal rap label Def Jam Records, was marching with the Peacekeepers.

“I have to do this so I can sleep at night,” Simmons said.

When asked if violence glamorized in rap and hip-hop culture contributes to gun violence in the real world, a reason often cited by Ford and other peace activists, Simmons said artists are not to blame but rather a combination of factors is at the root of the problem.

For example, Simmons cited the state’s prison system as a destructive force on the community’s youth. When young people are arrested and sent to state prisons, they often learn to simply be a better criminal from other inmates before being released back onto the streets.

Lenworth Wood’s son Jason was killed in a gruesome triple murder earlier in the summer by someone wielding at least one assault rifle. He marched at the rally along with members of his family who wore shirts bearing photos of the slain man.

In order to serve the community, Ford plans to open a new office called the I Love My Life Peace Office on the corner where the parade started.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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