MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. -- Damaris Mone had always pondered the question: “What do we do if we run out of gift cards? As treasurer of the Westchester County Crime Stoppers she had concerns.
On Saturday, April 11, at the organization’s Gun Buy Back event, that prospect became all too real, with the jarring juxtapositions of urban and suburban gun experiences. People lined up in front of the Doles Community Center with taped boxes and bags containing firearms an hour before the city opened the doors.
John Boykin, a key member of crime stoppers, noted at the time, “If it happens, it’s a good problem to have.” But the WCCS crew, including myself, grew nervous as a diverse group consisting of grandmothers from the neighborhood who walked in with brown paper bags and small pull-carts; and others from outside our urban community. Mount Vernon Lt. Richton Ziadie had enlisted a professional team of 10 officers to manage the event, which included Westchester county police personnel.
The well-organized set of stations, which ranged from documentation to testing to assessment value, could not have been better staged. What was yet to be tested was the fluidity of handoff, from one station to the next, between a civilian team and police team that had just met for the first time.
The numbers were set: $500 for an assault rifle, $200 for a handgun and $100 for a rifle or shotgun. High-capacity magazines earned a $20 buyback. Less than two hours into the processing and payment for firearms, it went so smoothly, we had nearly depleted our budget of more than $6,500 of privately donated funds.
Yet, there was a sense in the room that we were not moving fast enough; something had changed. We needed to deal with Damaris’ question, and soon. Richard Burke, provided the answer: “We get more cards,” he said.
Fortunately for us, the city’s leadership had a plan to save the day. Personal credit cards in hand, deputy police commissioner Burke rushed out to Best Buy and returned with an additional $3,600 worth of gift cards. An hour or so later, however, that too appeared to be insufficient. We needed to close the doors. The response was overwhelming. It was clear our awareness campaign was more effective than we had anticipated.
It also was clear our fundraising effort needed to be continued well beyond the day’s event. By mid-day, we had taken in approximately 35 hand guns, about 10 riffles and a couple of shotguns and assault weapons.
At this point, Commissioner Raynor’s words, “taking just one gun off the street had the potential to save a life,” began to sink in. It was a sobering moment of reflection on the event’s accomplishments, and the enduring pain of so many mothers, in our community, who have had to bury their sons because of gun violence – what a sad reality.
Another perspective also was evident. I walked to the back of the room to survey the remaining group of gun owners who got in before we shut the doors. I shook the hand of a young gentleman who had a long, black, case. He was wearing a baseball cap and reminded me of Bradley Cooper in the movie role the American Sniper. His demeanor evoked quite a different experience with guns. I remembered the conversation I had with him the day before.
Via a blocked caller ID, he had asked for directions to Doles Community Center. Cryptically, he said he had an AK-47 and wanted to be assured amnesty. Viscerally, I felt uneasy; but intellectually, I responded with “no questions asked.” I reminded him that the return value was in gift cards. His answer was: “I know, I bought the gun when it was legal, now it’s not, I want to do the right thing.”
Derickson K. Lawrence, Chair Westchester County Crime Stoppers Donate: www.westchestercrimestoppers.org
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