An East Flatbush pastor is calling for his neighbors’ support as he prepares for the 25th anniversary of the area’s annual “unity walk and community parade” — an event aimed at strengthening police relations — on Saturday, Aug. 6.
Reverend Terry Lee, the inner-city evangelist who serves at Byways & Hedges Youth For Christ Ministry, is summoning New York City Police Department officers, government officials, faith-based leaders and neighborhood coalitions to stand together during this year’s march as a powerful symbol that all of Brooklyn is uniting against violence.
“Come out and show the community that you’re willing to do prevention [and] that you believe in facilitating change and empowering the community,” the reverend said in a statement. “We must unite so that we can have safer neighborhoods [and] so we can rebuild trust and eliminate the walls that prevent us from seeing each other as human and cause us to shoot and kill each other.”
Now is the time for “healing and unity,” the reverend said. “We need our leaders – spiritual, political, social, entrepreneurial. We need everybody to come out and join forces.”
The yearly walk in East Flatbush began as a unification tactic after the 1997 sexual assault on Haitian immigrant Abner Louima by NYPD officers, Lee said. While riots broke out and many lost their faith in cops, he and local leaders wanted to ease local tensions and put the focus on peace and harmony.
“We all decided that we [were] going to get together and organize a unity day to unite the police and the community. That’s what we have been doing for 25 years nonstop,” he said. “What was done [to Louima] was horrible but at the same time I find that there are some great police out there. Police who were terrified of what those cops did.”
Louima’s assault — just one of many instances of police brutality reported throughout the country in the last quarter of a century — has served as a call to action for much of Brooklyn, Lee said.
“We see that the there’s a greater need to strengthen the relationship and [to let people see] that there are good cops out there,” the reverend said. The walk also symbolizes the community’s willingness to “work together with the good cops and help to transform the life of the bad cops.”
The event — which kicks off at 11 a.m. near the corner of Empire and Flatbush avenues in Prospect Lefferts Gardens — has typically been well supported, according to Winifred Grant, a congregation member and volunteer for the non-profit Community Concerns Network, which helps to organize the walk.
Grant says local organizations and businesses have worked with Byways & Hedges for decades, encouraging the event.
“The response over the years has been a good one,” Grant said. “People turn out in large numbers to support Reverend Terry Lee because we feel he’s been doing this for a good cause — uniting the police and the community.”
This year’s walk will conclude at the corner of Utica and Church avenues in East Flatbush, where there will be a celebratory community festival. Devarjaye “DJ” Daniel — a 10-year-old from Texas who is currently battling brain and spine cancer — will serve as the event’s grand marshal. Daniel is on a quest to be sworn in as an honorary police officer by as many law enforcement agencies as possible.
“Strongly committed to bridging the gap between the community and law enforcement, DJ has been sworn in at over 600 law enforcement agencies,” Community Services Network said in a statement.
Not only is the event for all ages but it’s also for all nationalities, political backgrounds and religious beliefs, according to Lee.
“Whatever country you’re from, we’re calling on everybody to come together so we can help to increase the peace and reduce the violence,” he said. “We just want New Yorkers to come together so we can be a part of the solution and not the pollution. Increase the peace so that we can reduce the violence.”