By David Cruz
Young people were at the center of today’s march against gun violence. They are, as either victims or perpetrators, the largest part of the tragic statistics in a city whose residents have learned to live with the violence while trying to foster some positivity.
“I feel like there’s more to Camden than what people think. It’s like there are a lot of intelligent kids out here,” insisted teenager Tysaan Brokenboro. “There’s a lot of organizations that people don’t know about. They just hear Camden and they think violence and bad things when it’s more than that. There are more good things than there are bad things.”
Tawanda Jones was at the march with a group of teenagers. “You know, we want these kids to live, to be here another day,” she said. “You know there’s a lot of senseless violence that’s going on in our city and I think people are finally fed up and tired and really want to do something about it.”
The crowd today was modest. The politicians were here. The congressman, chatting with schoolkids. The mayor, in her final months in office, greeting guests. The kids, practicing their routines. And the preacher, trying to get some response to his call.
Asked if she felt like there was some work that she had left unfinished, Mayor Dana Redd replied, “Absolutely. We never raised a victory flag on public safety; we know that it’s a work in progress. It’s a work that we focus on each and every day to support the efforts of our chief, the men and women in the Camden County Police Department and to unite them with the community.”
“The guns that are taking lives here in Camden city and throughout New Jersey aren’t coming from New Jersey,” said Congressman Donald Norcross, who represents the city in Congress. “They’re coming from Pennsylvania and Virginia where they have lax laws that enforce that. That’s a problem. We need a national solution.”
While most incidents of crime are down here, there were 44 homicides last year. A seventh-grader shot by a 17-year-old, an 8-year-old and numerous other teenagers. And the guns, almost always illegally obtained, turning what used to be simple beefs into homicides.
“Well, after a while it becomes the norm, and this is something that we want to move away from,” said Camden resident Abdul Malik. “You know, there’s no more shock value when you see a young man shot in the street. You just walk by them like it’s the norm and this is something that we want to get away from. We want the community to come out and speak up. We don’t want the community to he scared. We want the community to come out and say this is not acceptable.”
Back at the elementary school where today’s march began, a survivor reflects on his life in the city that used to be known as the most dangerous in America.
“I’m one of those people who is happy to be broke on the street than rich in jail,” noted former inmate Tirrell Concepcion. “You know, because I did my time in jail and I survived and did what I had to do but I came home and turned my life around and now I’m just trying to see my daughter, who’s 20 years old now, grow up and do better than what I did in these streets.”
There is no real expectation that another march is going to end gun violence or stop the proliferation of illegal guns. The point of today is to say that there are still people in this community who are standing up and hoping that their voices are heard, whether someone is listening or not.