Borough Park residents call for safer streets at vigil for man killed by reckless driver

Speakers addressed Jose Barrera’s grieving family, saying the city needed to do more to protect people on city streets.
Photo by Ben Verde

Borough Park residents, street safety advocates, and elected officials are calling for justice for 50-year-old Jose Barrera, a construction worker who was killed in front of his home by a reckless driver on July 11. 

Dozens gathered at a vigil for Barrera on July 17, where they lit candles and performed sorrowful mariachi songs — before marching to the 66th Precinct to demand changes to city streets, which they said could prevent deaths like Barrera’s. 

“This neighborhood is full of danger to people who are walking, people who are bicycling, and needs to be fixed,” said Debbie Herman, a member of Families for Safe Streets who works nearby. “There are so many families in this neighborhood who deserve better, who deserve safer streets.”

Barrera was unloading groceries from his minivan on July 11 when he was was pinned by a 21-year-old driver who apparently lost control of the vehicle. He was killed just steps away from his home, and in front of his wife and six-year-old daughter.

Speakers at the vigil called on the NYPD to arrest the driver.

“What I’m asking for justice,” said Marisol Contla, whose husband Jose Contla was killed by a hit and run driver in Bensonhurst in February. “We need justice, we need something to be done.”

A memorial to Barrera contained candles, his hat and shoes, and the door to his destroyed minivan.Photo by Ben Verde

Borough Park, Midwood, and Kensington saw a rash of pedestrian and cyclist deaths throughout 2019, and despite some residents’ pleas, few notable safety improvements have been made to local streets.

Exasperated community members pointed to the stalled design changes on Coney Island Avenue, which claimed multiple lives in 2019 — including pedestrian María del Carmen Porras Hernández, and cyclist Jose Alzorriz.

“We keep hearing that there is no money to do this work, that there aren’t any resources to keep our families safe,” said Shahana Hanif, a staffer at Borough Park Councilman Brad Lander’s office who hopes to succeed him. “We need to make sure that our neighborhoods — every single neighborhood where Black and brown communities are dying — are safe.” 

The crash came the same week the Brooklyn District Attorney announced the forming of a new street safety unit to investigate crash deaths. Speaking at the vigil, the head of the new unit vowed to seek justice for Barrera. 

“This is a terrible event, make no mistake, and no family should have to live with the horrifying consequences of traffic violence,” said Assistant District Attorney Ronald Snyder. “I along with my colleagues will do everything we can within our power to get justice for Mr. Barrera and his family.”