Brownsville murder of Zurana Horton highlights need for a renewed fight against gun crime
The death of a mother of 12 stuns a Brooklyn community
It has been more than two weeks since a rooftop gunman fatally shot Zurana Horton as she shielded several children outside a Brownsville school. In that time, the community has grappled with fear, anger and sadness as police arrested the shooter, and as 12 children buried their heroic mother.
In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote famously, “The chief problem in any community cursed with crime is not the punishment of the criminals, but the preventing of the young from being trained to crime.” Horton’s senseless murder underscores the continuing significance of these words.
In Brownsville, faced with a shortage of opportunity, too many young people have bought into the notion that a life of violence and crime is acceptable — that it’s okay to rob, steal and “bust guns.” But in the wake of Horton’s death, Brownsville cannot wait any longer. We need a new strategy for reducing youth gun violence, with buy-in from all stakeholders, including the Police Department.
Recently, the neighborhood has witnessed a disturbing wave of violence, including more than 24 murders and at least two shootings at schools since the start of the year. A recent survey by the Center for Court Innovation shows that more than 70% of Brownsville residents now identify gun violence as a major problem facing their community. Countless marches and vigils have rallied neighbors to take action, but a key question lingers: What shall that action be? In the wake of tragedy, we must develop and rapidly implement a plan to make Brownsville’s most recent shooting its last. To do this, we must bring parents, educators, law enforcement, local government and others to the same table to discuss solutions to the problem of youth gun violence in our neighborhood.
We need not start from scratch to be successful. Innovative programs like Ceasefire in Chicago and Save Our Streets in Crown Heights offer promising models and prove that real results are possible. These initiatives have trained former offenders as “violence interrupters” to identify and build safe relationships with potential perpetrators, discouraging retaliation and stopping youth gun violence before it occurs.
We ought to convene a distinguished working group on youth violence, with representation from government, local universities and residents of Brownsville to identify and import the best community-based programs in the country. This would mark a measurable first step toward ensuring that our most at-risk youth have a chance to thrive.
It is heartening to know that we are not alone in our efforts. Led by our own mayor, elected officials across the country have taken on the issue of gun violence in notable ways. More than 600 mayors from urban areas and small towns have joined the coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which looks to stop the flow of illegal guns into America’s cities.
Violence on our streets is never the result of disputes or rivalries alone. It stems from a feeling of despair and a lack of optimism about the future. What we need in Brownsville is not simply a crime- fighting strategy to address the symptoms of this despair, but a community-building strategy to bring shared hope and opportunity back to the neighborhood. Our task should be to create alternatives to violence by boosting employment opportunities, improving health and housing resources and investing in schools — working at every level to ensure that Brownsville is not left behind.
In recent weeks, Brownsville has buried its dead; now, it is time to act. We have met together, grieved together, marched and kept vigil together. Now, let us come together to devise a plan to stop youth gun violence. Let’s bring hope back to Brownsville.
Jackson is director of the Brownsville Recreation Center. Thomas is managing director of the Brownsville Partnership.