Guns in gift cards and iPads too

Not so long ago in New York, a paramedic was shot dead in an ambulance by the patient he was transporting to the hospital. a Goldman Sachs employee was killed by a gunman on a subway train crossing the Manhattan Bridge; and an eleven-year-old girl, Kyhara Tay, accidentally fell into a Bronx nail salon covered in blood. “Ouch, ouch, it hurts”, we heard shouting, after being shot in the stomach. Police said the suspects were two teenagers, who were targeting a thirteen-year-old boy on the street. A few days later, Yuronza Streeter, a tall man in a polo shirt and sunglasses, went to Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood carrying a revolver and a semi-automatic pistol. Then he handed them over to the police. “I don’t like guns, even though I’m ex-military,” Streeter said. “I know what a gun can do. They don’t need to be on the street. I mean for law enforcement officers, no problem. But for individuals? Nope. He walked out of church with four hundred dollars worth of gift cards and a new iPad Mini.

A few minutes later, someone arrived with a shotgun wrapped in a garbage bag. Then a Bed-Stuy football coach arrived in a Jeep and handed over a gun. “I got it because I needed protection in my neighborhood,” he said. “What am I going to do if some guy breaks into my house and pulls out a 9 millimeter? Pull out a baseball bat? He added: “The gun was illegal so I decided to get rid of it.” Someone else returned an AR-15-style rifle with a sawed-off stock, and a mother arrived to drop her child’s plastic pistol.

“There are no questions asked,” said an undercover police officer, dressed in jeans and white Nike Jordans, on the sidewalk outside. “You get a ticket. We process the gun. We are giving you a gift. Ten minutes!” Inside, another cop said, “They’re not being taken for DNA. Literally, nothing’s being done for these guns. offsite, and they are destroyed.” (Handguns are smelted at a steel mill in Pennsylvania; rifles and shotguns are shredded at a metal recycling plant in New Jersey.)

In 2008, the Reverend Joseph Jones brought together a group of pastors in Brooklyn to organize a church-sponsored gun buy-back. The Kings County prosecutor’s office had tried buyouts before, but people were suspicious. “It wasn’t until we said ‘Bring ’em to church’ that it worked,” Jones said. “People felt like the pastor or rabbi or religious leader would stand up for them if something happened.” That summer, six churches in Brooklyn opened. “I had grandmothers who brought weapons. I had aunts and uncles who brought shotguns. There were people who brought in Desert Eagles from their military days. It was a plethora of weapons,” Jones said. They collected nearly two thousand firearms. Pastors have since held buyouts all over Brooklyn.

Emmanuel Baptist’s was sponsored by Junior’s Restaurant (“The World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake”) and the DA’s office. “We are not using taxpayers’ money to pay for this. We’re using money from drug dealers,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said as he inspected a Smith & Wesson revolver that had just been laid in the church hallway, amid walls decorated with children’s works. (New York’s criminal forfeiture law allows law enforcement to reallocate the proceeds of crime.)

A cop dragged a trash can full of long-barreled shotguns across the floor of a room lined with picture books. Gonzalez said, “I lost a brother to gun violence. I don’t talk about it often. He was my younger brother. He died at twenty-four. Gonzalez said that when he was growing up in East New York (“murder capital”, he called it), he knew a lot of kids who had guns in their homes. They are difficult to eliminate. With the buyback program, he said, “I hope we reduce the need to put people in jail for unlawful possession.”

At the end of the corridor, two men who had just gotten rid of their weapons were waiting, seated on folding chairs. Gonzalez walked past. “You made a good decision,” he said. A cop yelled, “Ticket #66953? Ticket #66953 – a bald man wearing a Miles Davis t-shirt – got his iPad Mini back. Smiling, he said, “Are you serious? Whaaaaaaat?”

Outside, a bespectacled man with a graying beard, who introduced himself as Abdul Sadiq, carried a Mitchell electric guitar box. Inside: a Hammydown rifle. “It wasn’t an assault weapon or something. It was in the family for a while, someone who passed away. Sadiq burst out laughing. “If you have something lying around, why not? I mean, don’t give them your last gun. It’s fucking Saturday night in Brooklyn. ♦

Michael N. Clark