By Chris Alessi
Dozens of Brownsville residents gathered together in front of Metropolitan Diploma Plus High School last night to pay tribute to Malachi Cotton, the 16-year-old student who was gunned down in front of the school the day before.
Cotton’s family joined with friends and concerned neighbors to hold a candlelit vigil at Rockaway Avenue and Hegeman Street, the corner where Cotton was killed by three men after school on Monday. All those gathered around the school expressed their grief and disbelief at the murder. “I have no idea why [it happened], that’s why we’re all here,” said Robin, a first-cousin of Cotton’s who declined to provide her last name.
Harold Crawford, a member of a local community group called 100 Blacks In Law Enforcement Who Care, called the incident “senseless” and an “outrage.” His organization is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who can identify the three killers, all of whom still remain at large.
Droves of other community organizers and activists – many who were neighborhood mothers that had lost a child to gun violence in the past – came to pay their respects and offer support to Cotton’s family. These included Marva Braithwaite, whose daughter was killed two years ago in Crown Heights, and Sharon Coombs-Rose who lost her son when he was gunned down four years ago in East Flatbush. “They killed him for an ipod,” said Coombs-Rose, noting the often-petty causes of deadly teen violence in the neighborhood. While the circumstances surrounding Cotton’s death remain unclear, one neighbor, Tanya Lewis, said Cotton had been playing basketball at a court next to the school right before he was shot. “It happened over a basketball game,” said Stephanie Miller, whose daughter, Lisa, went to school with Cotton.
Many who turned out noted the perpetual violence that has come to define this low-income neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn. “We’ve got to get the guns off the streets,” said Joseph King, a Brooklyn resident who grew up in East NY. He also emphasized that the neighborhood needed more police protection in order to combat further violence, a contention with which most at the vigil agreed. “We need more cops on the corner,” said James Johnson, a neighbor of the school for the past eleven years.
Councilman Charles Barron reiterated this sentiment as he stood with Cotton’s family at the center of a large circle of mourners. “We’ve got to take back our streets,” Barron proclaimed to the crowd. “We’re not letting this community go to nothings.” As he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Cotton’s mother, he urged the community to take responsibility to prevent further tragedies. “If you see something, say something…all of those that don’t want to snitch, tell me and I’ll do it,” he said to a smattering of cheers.
While Barron was speaking, Cotton’s girlfriend, Dasia Williams, 16, arrived at the scene in a state of uncontrollable sobs and made her way into the middle of the vigil. As she became engulfed in a sea of mourners, Barron reminded the group that it would have been Cotton’s 17th birthday. He then rallied the crowd to proclaim in unison, “Happy Birthday, Malachi!”