Around 8 p.m. on May 18, 14-year-old D’aja Robinson and a group of her friends left a birthday party and boarded a bus to get home. Seconds later, before the bus took off, a man fired several gunshots into its side. Robinson was killed. Police explained that she was not the intended target. As the Daily News that Monday put it, “shooting death shakes Queens community.”
A month later, locals organized a memorial march. It should have been the last place for violence to bubble up.
The 100 or so mourners walked along Sutphin Boulevard toward the location of the shooting. There was no chanting, nor even a buzz of chatter. They walked quietly.
A 15-year-old boy named Joshua Frank Ricks had come up with the idea for the Silence the Violence procession. Robinson’s family and community leaders supported the plan, and the pack filled in the street’s lane.
Lance and Todd Feurtado, founders of the King of Kings foundation and the Snug anti-violence initiative, stood near the front. When the group reached the site of the shooting, the people formed a circle. Ricks, joined by Robinson’s relatives, spoke at the center.
During the proceedings, somebody approached the brothers and pulled them to the back of the crowd. There, a few feet behind the memorial, the Feurtados saw two groups of young men, “hoods on, hands in pockets, squaring up with other crew,” Lance recalls.
The brothers would later learn that one group of five or six guys had traveled with the march and were there to pay respects. The other group of around 10 guys had wandered over, curious about the crowd in the middle of the street. The march had brought the smaller group into rival territory, and when the bigger group saw them, they began eying them. And so the crews squared up.
“Pride had kicked in,” says Lance.
As chronicled in this week’s feature, “The Gang War That Wasn’t,” Lance and Todd had launched Snug in Far Rockaway to defuse conflicts before they burst into violence. They knew the mediation process. But they also knew that young men are more likely to listen to a familiar voice.
So the brothers quickly found a few adults from Robinson’s family. These men knew some of the boys. They stepped between the groups and tried to cool them down.
“Not here, not today,” one man said forcefully. “This is my cousin’s memorial.”
The men didn’t lecture the boys on anti-violence, or on the sad irony of potential gunplay at a memorial for a young person killed by a firearm. They weren’t challenging them to alter their lifestyles. Those are messages that can hit a wall in the heat of pride.
They were simply asking them to keep the peace at this location, at this moment. And the young men apparently found this request reasonable. They walked away in opposite directions.
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