The city’s decade-low murder rate spiraled upward the past two weekends, resulting in 10 reported shootings and five homicides.
The explosion of gunplay might have been expected to bring out a large crowd to Monday’s Labor Day Peace & Nonviolence Festival and Walk. Instead, only about 175 people – including some with a primarily anti-war outlook – turned out on a warm and sunny day at Martin Luther King Park.
“I wish more homicide victims’ families were here. There should be five times or more people that are here, because there is not a black family or black person in this community who hasn’t been affected by the violence,” said the Rev. Derren Young of St. John Baptist Church.
“We should be out here in droves marching for this cause. It kind of bothers me, but thank God for the souls that are here.”
The event was sponsored by a number of organizations, including the Stop the Violence Coalition, Sister Karen Klimczak Center for Nonviolence and Western New York Peace Center.
Murry Holman, executive director of Stop the Violence, said he believed the message of nonviolence on the East Side was gaining currency, and praised Mayor Byron W. Brown’s efforts.
“Our homicide rates are down, so our message is working. More people are paying attention to it,” Holman said.
The walk, which was confined to the park, occurred at the same time as the Labor Day Parade in South Buffalo, which Vickie Ross, the Peace Center’s interim director and one of the organizers, said, in hindsight, had been a mistake.
“We should have had our walk later in the day, so people could have gone to both. I think people were focused on what was the best time for people to come,” Ross said.
Still, she was encouraged by the “culture of peace” message she felt the event delivered.
There were few teenage African-American boys and young men present – a demographic connected to many of the gang-related shootings in the city.
Still, Lenoard Lane, president of the F.A.T.H.E.R.S organization, thought the event was a success.
“I think this is the beginning of something we can do to show peace. We ought to be starting this off with adults and faith-based leaders showing we can come together,” he said.
The Rev. Janice Fisher, co-pastor of Good Shepherd Temple, spoke to the crowd about the proliferation of Teddy bears hanging off lightpoles to commemorate the violent deaths of young people. She suggested street violence had replaced children playing games outdoors such as hopscotch, and the cure was in practicing nonviolence.
“Nonviolence perpetuates peace, and peace perpetuates a community that stands strong with one another,” Fisher told the crowd.
Janique Curry, wearing a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt, said all people needed to be treated justly.
“Black lives matter, all lives matter. I read something about how it wouldn’t be such a controversy if all lives mattered, and we were all treated equally,” Curry said.
Bayram Arman, who was born in Turkey and lives in Grand Island, said he was at the event to support peace around the world.
“The world is getting smaller and smaller. The Middle East is not too far from us anymore. We need to promote peace and justice internationally as well as here,” Arman said.
Zaid B. Islam brought his friend’s message home.
“Violence that happens in one community can happen in every community. It touches each and every Western New Yorker, regardless of where you may live,” Islam said.
That applies to people behind bars, said Karima Amin, executive director of Prisoners Are People Too. She said the group works to provide information on how poorly prisoners are often treated inside the “prison industrial complex,” and the opportunities that are needed for them when they get out.
“Our motto says that to deny their humanity is to deny our own humanity,” Amin said.
Ernest Miller of Atlantic City, N.J., in Buffalo to visit family, said he was there because, “They’re trying to do what (Martin Luther King Jr.) was trying to do in terms of promoting peace.”
Fredean Honeycutt was also drawn to the rally for similar reasons, bringing along her grandsons. Mikell Fulgham, 2, and Michael Wells, 10.
“Let us all come together as one because God loves everybody as one,” Honeycutt said.