By Joe Hirsch
Naisha Pearson was just 10 years old when she was gunned downed in Saw Mill Park on East 139th Street. She was playing at a Labor Day block party in 2005 when a stray bullet struck her.
Soundslide by Maria Clark
Her killer, a 20-year-old stranger named Rene Bonilla, was shooting at someone else. He’s now doing 50-to-life behind bars.
In Naisha Pearson’s memory, Saw Mill Park was the starting point for this year’s Mother’s Day walk and rally against gun violence. It was the fourth consecutive year that the anti-gun protest was held on Mother’s Day weekend in Mott Haven, in memory of young people killed by gunfire from illegal guns.
Nearly 400 local residents and family members of slain loved ones gathered for this year’s event. They demanded solutions to the continuing scourge of gun violence in the city.
The marchers walked up St. Ann’s Avenue to St. Ann’s Episcopal Church where a half-dozen parents and other relatives of young people killed by guns shared their grief and pleaded for stricter national gun laws.
“We started this four years ago, and the turnout today is beautiful,” Naisha Pearson’s mother Taesha told the crowd as she fought back tears.
“If we keep on like this, we won’t have a future,” she said. “Our kids will be gone, and then what will we have?”
Other family members spoke out about more recent tragedies. Jamell Woods, 26, was gunned down on May 3.
“I buried him yesterday, and I thought that was the worst thing I thought I would ever have to do,” Woods’ mother Cynthia told the gathering, her voice breaking. “I’m not supposed to be burying my son; he’s supposed to be putting me away. I’m not supposed to be going through this right now.”
Sherard Bates’ brother Shannon, 33, was killed April 27.
“Conflict resolution doesn’t need firearms,” Bates said, addressing the young people in the crowd. “Ones that use firearms, they’re cowards. You’re always gonna have conflicts. How you resolve that conflict is the key.”
A gun buyback in April got 987 guns off Bronx streets (see accompanying story). More is needed, said Gloria Cruz, who founded the annual Mott Haven walk and rally after Bonilla shot Naisha, and who continues to organize the Mother’s Day event every year.
Jackie Hilley, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, which co-sponsored the march, told the crowd to pressure politicians to stem the flow of illegal guns to New York streets, “because these guns that are killing your kids and ruining your families and devastating your future are coming from states where anybody can buy a gun by just going in and handing over the money.”
“We need to close the gun show loophole at the federal level,” Hilley said, suggesting the public log onto the votesmart.com website to tell Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, “We’re tired of going to funerals in our neighborhoods from guns from other states.”
Local politicians agreed.
“We need a uniform anti-gun policy law passed,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who attended the rally along with City Council members Melissa Mark Viverito and Maria Carmen del Arroyo.
Members of the local community group the Black Spades were among numerous civic organizations that marched.
Marion “Tiny” Frampton, 53, a lifelong Mott Haven resident and former spokesman for the group, which was formed by area teens in the 1970s as a way to organize young people to protect themselves from violence in the inner city, said the carnage today is a result of failed local and national policies.
“You got to offer these kids something,” Frampton said. “The government is busy building jails, but we’ve got the raggediest schools,” he added. “They’ve got to do something about the south, because that’s where all the guns are coming from.”