Harlem Focus
Dec 7, 2018 · 4 min read

by Kelvin Jaquez

A street in the Dominic Republic

For the most of my life guns have been a common thing. Although I was born in the United States, I lived in the Dominican Republic, and I still travel there often. I saw guns everywhere. At the bank, and even at supermarkets where I remember seeing a security guard scratch his calf with the barrel of a shotgun. It still makes me laugh to this day to think how lazy he was.

In my elementary school, we had armed guards. They weren’t these stoic military guards that some can imagine. They were very nice guys, and they were very polite to us. They used to wave and smile at every student coming in and out of the school. They normally carried shotguns while sitting guard at the door.

I was raised with guns in the house and had family members who owned guns. My mother had a rule for any of her brothers who carried a gun. The rule was if they carried a gun it would be locked in her room until they leave. She did not like it when people displayed firearms in her house even if it would be in their holster, or better yet tucked in their pants.

The first time I saw a gun used in a violent way, I was twelve and sitting in the back of my father’s car on a sunny afternoon on a palm-tree lined busy road. At an intersection we saw an accident. A woman was lying on the ground in front of a car. The driver was arguing with another man who appeared to be the victim’s father. He pulled out a pistol and pointed to the driver’s forehead. While I did not see him pull the trigger we were not going to stay there to find out. We left quickly when the light turned green, but I still remember the moment where the man I thought was the father had the driver’s life in his hands.

Later that week I was at home in my room late at night watching television. It must have been 1:00 a.m. and I heard a loud bang behind the back wall of my house. I couldn’t figure out whether it was a gunshot. But then I knew. An hour later I heard the scream of a sobbing woman lamenting a death. It was really painful to hear, and scary to know that gun violence was way closer to me than I thought.

I must have been fifteen when I witnessed a robbery that went wrong. I was on my way home with several of my friends who just had a fun time at karaoke. As we were driving, we heard gunshots. We immediately looked to our left saw a shootout taking place on the other side of the road.

Gunmen were attempting to rob the shotgun from a security guard who was standing guard at the credit union in front of a plaza. We saw the security guard fall to floor and fire back. It may seem like it was straight out of a movie, but instead of enjoying the film I was afraid that a stray bullet might hit me. “This is the reality that we live with here. Guys shooting you to rob you,” Robin, a friend with me, said.

Living in the United States I have encountered my fair share of gun violence as well. It befuddles me how gentrified Bushwick, Brooklyn is. I witnessed gang-on-gang violence in Bushwick first hand when I was younger. In 2008 or early 2009, I saw gang members shooting at each other with .22 caliber pistols across a street between Bushwick Avenue and Broadway. They took cover behind parked cars and fired back and forth even though this street was filled with small residential buildings and apartment houses.

All of my experiences add to my fear of getting shot. That’s why on Thursday, October 18th, I was startled and confused when I heard the news of a potential gunman on campus. While the truth was that a student at the William H Randolph High School campus brought a BB gun to school, I was afraid that I was going to become a statistic.

I was relieved to know that the Department of Public Safety and the NYPD were on campus. They did their job and that helped me calm down. I even thanked several officers on my way to the train at 145th Street.

Today I feel thankful that I have never been hit, or directly affected by the guns around me. I am grateful that I am safe and sound. Time seems to heal me and I am able to share some of the things I’ve seen. While there are stories I do not feel comfortable to share yet, I learned that these experiences have made me tougher and mentally stronger.

Because of my negative experience with guns and gun violence, it is difficult for me to leave the house on July 4th. I don’t celebrate Independence Day. I don’t participate in the lighting of any fireworks, nor do I go watch the fireworks at the East River. Loud pops and bangs truly scare me.

I am very grateful that every time that I have encountered gun violence I have been left unscathed.

Harlem Focus

Harlem Focus is a blog with an eye on community, culture, art, food and life in and around Harlem. It is a product of CCNY Journalism Program in collaboration with the Documentary Forum.

Harlem Focus

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We're blogging all things #Harlem at medium.com/harlem-focus. @docforumccny + @CityCollegeNY = #Squad

Harlem Focus

Harlem Focus is a blog with an eye on community, culture, art, food and life in and around Harlem. It is a product of CCNY Journalism Program in collaboration with the Documentary Forum.

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