The Connection Between Guns and Traffic
Activist Profile: Jackie Rowe-Adams
How did you get involved with activism?
Thirty-three years ago I lost my first son. It seems just like yesterday. That’s how my life changed. My first son was 17 years old. He was killed when three drug sellers saw him in a bodega and said, “Look at that nigger looking at us. We don’t like how he’s looking at us. We should kill him.” They followed him out of the store and they actually killed him, all because they didn’t like how he was looking at them. Sixteen years later, my second son was killed by a 13-year-old with a gun. And this is what made me start an organization. I had to choose between hating teenagers and working with them. I chose to work with them. I chose to try and make sure another mother or father would never feel the same pain and hurt that I have endured. That’s what made me want to start Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E.
What happened next?
I walked into Assemblyman Keith Wright’s office in 2006 with four more mothers saying, help, help. We were saying that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired of our kids being killed and them killing each other. Who is giving our kids these guns? That was the question. Immediately, Assemblyman Keith Wright said, “Well y’all are going to need a name.”
That’s where Harlem Mothers Stop Another Violent End (S.A.V.E.) comes from…
Yes. Assemblyman Keith Wright took us to the steps of City Hall. We went and stood on the steps with 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement. While we were standing on the steps of City Hall, my cell phone rang, and I picked it up and believe it or not, it was someone on the phone to tell me, “I know what y’all are doing. I know that y’all are wanting to know who is giving these kids these guns.” And they gave me the name of two bodegas in Harlem that were selling guns.
This is deep, this is a real story. I immediately told 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement. I wanted to say it to the media. I wanted to say it on TV. But they said no, because that’s dangerous. So the next day, they contact the police. They close these bodegas that was giving these kids guns the next day. This is how Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. started.
Are there other stories like that?
You had a truck out there on 127th Street and 7th Avenue selling collard greens and watermelons. It’s a famous truck. Everybody knew that truck. They would go down south and they would get collard greens and watermelons. Who would believe they were going to get guns too, and were up here selling them? We took them off the street. So that’s how Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. started. And we’ve been moving forward ever since.
That’s a remarkable beginning. How does it compare to your organization today?
We started off with five mothers. Now we have 50 plus mothers and fathers. We have a support group that meets every first Monday of the month. We are faithful, we are consistent, and we make sure we do outreach once we hear about the shootings. We have first-responders training, training mothers and fathers what to look for and how to be helpful to families that are hurting and don’t have a voice.
How do you do that?
When you lose a loved one, and you’re in the hospital, first thing: Here come the media and here come the police. You need someone who knows your pain that can be your voice. And that’s what we do. We go and we interact, if the family wants us. We don’t force ourselves on the family. We only do it if the family wants us to do it. But we are on site, and we are the voice, to the media, to the police. We tell them the family don’t want to be bothered or if the family made a statement. These are the things we do.
You’ve been organizing with Families for Safe Streets, TransAlt’s group of family members who survived crashes or lost loved ones in traffic. How did you meet?
Really through [TransAlt’s Upper Manhattan Organizer] Sandra Hawkins. She was so persistent. She worked me to death. She was determined that I was going to meet the families. She told me about Transportation Alternatives and she gave me a whole history and I said, Sandra, right now I’m so busy. And she said, “No, no, you’ve got to meet them.” She was so persistent that I said, oh Lord, Sandra, okay. When she broke it down and told me about the families, and the loss of the families, I said, it’s the same thing. Different incidents but the same hurt and pain. We need to support each other because we all have the same pain, we all have had a loss. Whatever way we had that loss, it’s the same tragedy. We have a lot in common. So I said, you are absolutely right, we need to join together.
At the Vigil for Vision Zero this summer, you spoke about the connection between guns and traffic. Can you elaborate?
A lot of these families have gotten kids murdered by traffic, and a lot of these families have gotten kids murdered by guns. How do we connect? We connect because there are still these families that are hurting. Some of the people that have hit these kids have said, “It’s an accident.” It wasn’t no accident. Just like it wasn’t no accident that shot my two children. This is a tragedy. And all of these are tragedies and losses. That’s how they connect and we have to begin to start saying what it is: It’s murder. We can’t sugarcoat this. We are definitely connected.
Gun control and traffic safety activists are not traditional allies. Why do you think it is important?
It’s important because we all had a loss. But it’s also important because we have numbers and there’s strength in numbers. And we came up crying for the same thing: Let’s stop the killing, let’s stop the tragedy. That’s how we link together and be one voice. I speak about guns, you speak about traffic, and we are all speaking about the same thing. What do we do about it? How do we put in safety laws that stick? Whether it’s gun safety or traffic safety. How do we put in these laws? We have to do it as a team.
What keeps you going after all these years?
People like you all, that want to get the message out there. People like you all, who care. And the other mothers that are hurting. What drives me is that we can’t bring our kids back. Traffic and guns, this is how we connect. We can’t bring our families back, so maybe, just maybe, we can help another mother, another father from the pain and hurt and crying that we have endured. That’s what keeps me going. I feel it’s hope. If we save one life, there’s hope.
What’s next for connecting these movements?
The key for both the traffic and gun violence is prevention and education. That’s what keeps us going. That’s what joins us by the hip. That’s where we’re bonding. Our messages are somewhat different because of the incidents, but it’s the same on the pain and prevention and education. If we don’t keep education and prevention out there, we lose. We win if we keep it out there. We win if we stay strong. We win when our voices are heard, together.
Is there anything else you want to say?
I just want to say, let’s keep this going. In Jesse Jackson’s famous words, let’s keep hope alive. And let’s continue prevention and education because that’s key, and touch as many lives and reach as many people as we possibly can. We must continue to lobby these legislators. We have to hold their feet to the ground. We ain’t going to let nobody turn us around. We have to keep on marching. Keep on talking. Keep on fighting. That’s what I want to say.