‘Tell our youth to put the guns down’: Crown Heights leaders rally against gun violence after teen shot at community center

rally at major owens community center after teen shot
Local leaders condemned youth gun violence at a rally Thursday outside the Major R. Owens community center where a teen was shot on Tuesday.
Photo by Ximena Del Cerro.

Local anti-violence organizations, religious leaders, and community members gathered at the Major Owens Health and Community Wellness Center in Crown Heights on Thursday to speak against gun violence after a 17-year-old boy was shot at the facility on Aug. 15. 

“My heart was broken,” said Andre T. Mitchell, founder and CEO of  Man Up! Inc, and the co-chair of the city’s anti-gun violence task force. “I remember what this building looked like before and to see what it looks like now, it’s night and day. So the worst thing that we wanted to happen is what we have now at our doorsteps.”

The state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot Major Owens center is a newly-renewed nonprofit space that serves one of Brooklyn’s most historically-underserved neighborhoods. The facility offers tutoring for students, LGBTQ support services, cultural events such as poetry readings, and athletic facilities for local public schools and youth sports leagues.

police on scene of crown heights teen shooting
The victim and gunman were reportedly arguing in the lobby of the community center before the shooting. File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Tuesday’s shooting occurred at the center’s lobby, where the victim and the gunman were arguing. The victim — whose identity has not been released — was taken to NYC Health+Hospitals/Kings County in critical condition. The gunman fled the scene after the incident, and has not yet been found. 

At the rally, community leaders and Council Member Crystal Hudson insisted the center is a safe space for much-needed resources. According to Gothamist, the center will have enhanced security measures going forward. 

In a statement, Hudson urged New Yorkers not to label Crown Heights as “chronically dangerous” after the shooting, pointing to a drop in shootings in the neighborhood year-over-year.

“What this tragic incident shows is that we need to continue investing in programs and systems, from more robust after school programming to free higher education programs, that ensure New Yorkers — especially young men — have meaningful and positive ongoing programming and support systems,” she said. 

Shootings are down citywide and in the 71st Precinct, where the center is located. Still, as of Aug. 13, there had been eight reported shooting incidents in the last year and, the most recent victim was the third teen to be shot in the precinct in the last three months, since a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old were shot outside a Franklin Avenue deli in May. 

In June, Crown Heights students marched against gun violence, warning “I could be next.” 

gun violence outside crown heights deli
Two teens were shot outside a Crown Heights deli in May, just months before the incident at the community center. File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Local leaders said Mayor Eric Adams dispatched a mental health crisis unit of four people to the center on Thursday to work community members through the trauma caused by the incident.

“Violence is a disease and if goes left untreated, it will spread,” said Mitchell. “The police department, they have their job to do, but we as a community, organizations, leaders, teachers, professors, we have a job to do as well and if we all work together in concert, we will minimize violence as has been demonstrated this year.”

Various organization leaders congregated at the rally to show support and reinforce their commitment to help stop violence among young people, including Elite Leaders Inc., which was hosting an event a block away from the community center at the time of the shooting. 

Police are still searching for the gunman, who has been described as being in his 20s.

“Tell our youth to put the guns down,” said Angelita Lewis, a community member who lost her son to gun violence. “When we say Black Lives Matter, we should respect each other in life.”