By EMILY SAWAKED
The emotions permeating the atmosphere were clear as young protestors of all ages gathered around their political leaders, teachers, parents, and relatives of the late Angellyh Yambo at a rally organized during Gun Violence Awareness Month to honor their 16-year-old school friend.
Angellyh was tragically and fatally killed in broad daylight by a stray bullet just north of the Mott Haven border on Friday, April 8, as she walked home from school. Two of her friends were also shot and injured during the same incident. Jeremiah Ryan, 17, was later charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the shootings which took place a few blocks from Angellyh’s high school, University Prep Charter School.
Two months later, on June 8, Angellyh’s school friends could be heard defiantly chanting, “Enough is enough!” as they marched around the block of the South Bronx school, located at 600 St. Ann’s Avenue. They were joined by Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15) who spoke to the students fervently, commending them for their action in arranging the march and honoring the memory of their friend.
Gibson addressed the crowd first, speaking with passion and sincerity. “Your life matters, Angie’s life mattered, Kyhara’s life mattered,” she said, the latter in reference to 11-year-old Kyhara Tay, who was also tragically and fatally killed in crossfire during a separate daylight shooting incident on Fox Street in the South Bronx on Monday, May 16, at 4.50 p.m. One unnamed 15-year-old, as well as 18-year-old Omar Bojang were later arrested in connection with the fatal shooting.
“I stand with you,” Gibson told the students during the rally. “I proudly wear orange. Orange is a sign of peace. We want peace in our streets, peace in our neighborhoods, peace on our blocks, peace on the corners, peace in the schools, peace in the parks, peace in the playgrounds. We want peace everywhere! The only way we do it is by standing up and not giving up.”
The borough president later suggested that while mass shootings such as those that had occurred in Buffalo, in upstate New York on May 14 and in Uvalde, TX on May 24 were generally widely condemned and etched into people’s consciousness, daily shootings in The Bronx, though initially shocking, seemed to have a tendency to fade quickly from public memory and not receive the same level of long-term attention.
“When the cameras are gone, when everyone returns to day-to-day normalcy, we forget about this violence,” Gibson said. “We focus on national mass shootings that are happening across the country, but we don’t remember the everyday shootings that happen in our city, in our borough almost every day and the victims and the suspects all look alike, come from the same communities, younger and younger and younger. We are killing our future,” she added. “[But] in the midst of pain, we will find purpose. In the midst of a storm, we will find strength.”
Torres commended the youth for being the generation that he said would end gun violence and make a stand against it. “The adults in Washington D.C. have been failing you,” he said. “You’re the generation that’s going to save us. You’re the generation that is going to deliver justice and gun safety.”
The congressman later called out gun manufacturers for their role in deaths caused by shootings, and proclaimed that the National Rifle Association (NRA) had “blood on its hands.” He added, “Enough is enough.” Torres continued, “Angie should be alive today,” he said. “She should be with us today. She represented what was best in The Bronx and what was best in our city, but her life was cut short by gun violence and here in The Bronx, we have been hit the hardest by gun violence, and if we don’t stand up to the epidemic of gun violence, no one else will.”
During an interview later with Norwood News, Torres criticized his fellow congressional representatives who were pro-life politicians, saying, “If you’re in public service, and you’re not willing to stand for the safety of children and teenagers, then what good are you?” He added, “The Republican Party claims to be pro-life, but if you refuse to protect the lives of children and teenagers, then there is no sense in which you are meaningfully pro-life.”
Asked what legislative action she wanted to see enacted, on a local level, Gibson said she hoped to increase funding for programs that would help keep at-risk youth and other citizens off the streets. “The fact that a shooter was 15 is unacceptable,” she said. “Neighborhoods should be safe.”
She said it was impossible, however, to relocate every family out of troubled areas or transfer out whole neighborhoods to keep them safe. “So, the families that are victims of a crime are stuck in the same neighborhood, the same block,” she said. “We could transfer a school but you’re still in the same neighborhood. That’s why young people feel forced to carry a weapon, a knife or a gun to school because they need to protect themselves from someone else.”
She said this was the reality talking to young people. “They will tell you the code of the streets, what’s happening on the streets, the crew violence, the gang violence, the beef, you got beef with this one,” Gibson said. “Everyone’s fighting over streets that nobody owns, but yet people are dying as a result of that. So it’s real, and we have to acknowledge it, but we also have to have action behind our words.”
The borough president went on to say, “I want to make sure, as Mayor Adams committed, 100,000 young people have a summer job. I want to make sure cornerstones, beacons, and summer camps are open. I want to expand Saturday Night Lights,” she added, saying what was needed was money and investment.
As reported, according to the City, the Saturday Night Lights program provides “safe and engaging activities for young people in underserved neighborhoods to have a fun,” and additionally provides a productive place to gather during peak times for high crime on Saturday evenings. “These school buildings should be open during the summer!” Gibson said. “We put [in place] a program, we put money, we put safety agents and staff, and guess what? We have a program!”
Gibson continued, “As a state, Gov. Hochul signed a package of legislation this week into law; I’m grateful for that, and we know that’s going to protect New Yorkers, but that won’t protect us from a gun coming from Georgia or coming from South Carolina, and that’s why national attention is important.” She added, “Our Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and [U.S.] Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have been at the forefront, pushing for comprehensive gun control legislation, but we need bipartisan support.”
The borough president then went on to take aim at U.S. Senate Republicans for not acting sooner on gun safety legislation. “Those damn Senate Republicans that refuse to act that sometimes, I think, they don’t care. If we didn’t act after Sandy Hook, what are we doing?” she said, referring, of course, to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, CT on Dec. 14, 2012, in which a gunman shot 27 people dead, including 20 children and seven adults, including the shooter’s own mother, before later shooting himself. Two other people were also shot but survived.
“Uvalde has happened,” Gibson added. “When are we going to protect children in classrooms, Black Americans in supermarkets, Latinos in bodegas, like when are we going to protect all of our people? We need Senate Republicans to also agree that gun violence is a national epidemic that must be addressed on the federal level.” Norwood News reached out to the U.S. Republican Party for comment on this story and will update it upon receipt of any response.
Despite the criticism, most were touched by the actions of the young marchers on the day. A few of the students even spoke at the rally, reading out statements they had written. They talked of their own fears of being shot, whether in the streets or at school, and how they were tired of being afraid.
“I am tired! I am tired of hearing how many people have lost their lives to gun violence!” one student named Fatimah said. “I am tired of having to wake up every day and adapt to life without someone I saw yesterday. I am tired of hearing the screams of mothers who know they will never see their children again.”
As the teenagers’ speeches continued, the message of fear and fatigue was clear, and the fear of being killed by gun violence extended to their peers and family members. According to middle school counselor, Yolainny Minaya, preparation for the rally followed a lot of engagement on the topic of gun violence between staff and students. She said middle school students, at least, had received advisory lessons over the previous two weeks on the topic, what it is and how it affects them.
“More so about the inequities around why gun violence happens,” Minaya told Norwood News. “She [Angellyh] was not able to have the chance that many other kids in other communities get to have, like walking home safely, going to and from school, and also just to raise awareness.”
Minaya continued, “It’s about the intersectionalities of gun violence; we have deficits in our community, programs… we don’t have trash cans in the corners.. We just wanted them to understand that it [the problem] was bigger than just that [gun violence],” she said.
Awareness of the plight of middle schoolers and high schoolers was certainly evident as the youngsters took to the streets around their school neighborhood, yelling out chants and carrying signs with images of Angellyh, along with the words, “Stand Up for Angellyh!” Other homemade signs displayed various other messages like, “No Guns, No Violence. Protect Kids @School.” All along the route, a sea of orange blockaded the streets as police escorted the protestors to their destination, making sure they were kept safe.
Yanely Henriquez, Angellyh’s mom, had previously issued a statement following her daughter’s death in April, describing her as a “young, beautiful soul, who had her whole life ahead of her.” She added, “We cherish the memory of Angie – a smart, talented, and caring young woman who lost her life too soon to this senseless act of violence. Please keep our family in your prayers during this difficult time.”
Spearheaded by Angellyh’s aunt, Mary Hernandez, the family is currently in the process of setting up a foundation in Angellyh’s memory to raise awareness of and help prevent gun violence.
As reported, on June 7, the New York State legislature voted on a package of new gun safety laws. On the day the rally was held, as reported, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of similar long-awaited, bipartisan gun safety bills at a national level. They have since passed in the U.S. Senate and have now been signed into law by the president.
On June 28, State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (S.D. 34), currently running for Congress in NY-17, introduced bill S9481 to allow a private right of action against individuals, firms, corporations, or associations who manufacture, distribute, or sell semi-automatic rifles, including AR-15 style semi automatic rifles, in New York State. If passed, New Yorkers would be legally permitted to bring cases against those who allow semi-automatic rifles to enter New York communities with deadly consequences.
On July 1, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed further landmark legislation to strengthen New York’s gun laws and bolster restrictions on concealed carry weapons. The package of new laws — drafted in close collaboration with the legislature — was devised in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 6-3 vote striking down an existing New York gun-control law that required individuals to show “proper cause” to get a license to carry a concealed handgun outside the home. The State took those steps to address the likely resulting increase in gun licenses in the State and in the number of individuals who will likely purchase and carry weapons.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, July 9, Mayor Eric Adams announced the expansion of the Saturday Night Lights program to include 25 additional sites with an additional $1.25 million investment. Young people can enjoy an array of indoor activities at 131 sites in all five boroughs, including basketball, soccer, volleyball, dance, martial arts, and more.
Saturday Night Lights aims to activate underutilized spaces, build trust between law enforcement and communities, and help enable youth to develop the skills, knowledge, and meaningful relationships necessary to reach their fullest potential. A key component of the program is bringing law enforcement and young people together with teams of youth coordination officers from NYPD precincts. The officers coach and interact with participants to make a lasting and positive impact on their lives.
Gyms remain open Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. throughout the summer (through Aug. 20), and during the school year from September 10, 2022 through June 24, 2023. The program was launched at a single Harlem gym in 2011. For more details on the initiative and to find a program, visit the Saturday Night Lights website.
“Saturday Night Lights is about changing lives and ensur
Wrapping up her address to the students at the June 8 rally, Gibson said, “We will hold onto each other because we are all that we have. We are all that we need. We will get through this together because family, community, we are better together.”
A person arrested and accused of a crime is deemed innocent unless and until convicted in a court of law.
*Síle Moloney contributed to this story.