PATERSON, NJ - More than 150 guests committed to ending gun violence in New Jersey's 3rd largest city attended Paterson Operation CeaseFire's 13th Annual Dinner Dance and Awards Ceremony Saturday.
Launched in 2006 with a goal of bringing law enforcement and the community together to "stop the next shooting before it happens," Paterson's branch of the national organization is the only one still operating in New Jersey.
“CeaseFire members collaborate with the police department, area residents, churches, local politicians, and more," Paterson Police Captain Patrick Murray said. "Just last night, there was a 16-year old boy that fell victim to gun violence, in Paterson. No parents or family should have to lose a 16-year old son. That is unimaginable," the career law enforcement officer said lamenting the tragedy that befell the city on Thursday.
Before praising the CeaseFire initiative, New Jersey’s Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, who served as keynote speaker for the event, said that “we are in a public health crisis of guns and gun violence here in New Jersey.” Illustrating her point Oliver referenced a roundtable discussion she hosted that included the mayors of three of New Jersey’s largest cities, including Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, that was followed just days later with one dead and 15 injured in a rash of shootings Memorial Day weekend in Trenton.
“This is a very complex problem that people don’t understand,” Oliver said before urging for the continuance of efforts that bring greater awareness to the efforts of law enforcement.
Reverend Allan Boyer of Paterson’s Bethel A.M.E. Church, and President of Operation CeaseFire, agreed with Oliver that proper protocol for residents of New Jersey on how to interact with law enforcement officers should be included in state public school curricula.
Among the honorees at the evening’s event was Reverend Sheila Holmes, longtime pastor of Paterson’s Northside Community Chapel Christian Reformed Church. Saying that disproportionate instances of gun violence in the city has created an environment in which, “normalcy is not the same,” Holmes, recently appointed to serve as a chaplain of crisis intervention for the Paterson Police Department, commended all in attendance for taking time out of their schedules to help support the anti-violence efforts.
“God has placed you where you are for a purpose. When a person dies, things will never be the same,” Holmes said. “Don’t settle for the abnormal.”
Also in attendance to be recognized for his organization’s efforts to bring safety to Paterson was Curtis Sliwa, the nationally recognized founder of the Guardian Angels. Founded 40 years ago in New York City the non-profit organization boasts 5,000 members in 13 countries and 130 cities around the world.
Saying that his volunteer members have helped patrol Paterson’s streets for years the self-described “purveyors of truth, justice, and the American way” have recently stepped up surveillance in several of the city’s most crime-ridden areas including the establishment of a Junior Guardian Angels group in the 4th Ward.
Pointing to recent layoffs by Paterson Public Schools Sliwa, accompanied by group members Benjamin Garcia, Wilson Lazarus, Alfred Dubois, and Dana Townsend, warned that “with the cuts in teachers and school social workers students are being thrown by the wayside.”
“Young people think they are empowered when the streets put a gun in their hand. How do young men avoid that environment,” Sliwa asked. “We need enforcers. We teach the Junior Angels to keep away from drugs and stay away from drug dealers. We need role models. CeaseFire is all about being peacemakers. We want to nourish the minds of young people.”
Though six Guardian Angels have been killed protecting their community over the years the organization’s credo still includes “never carrying a gun.”
Also recognized for their efforts to help children, families, and community residents battle crime were Sue Butterfield, President of the Passaic County Education Association, Passaic County Freeholder Sandi Lazzara, Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale and Paterson Police Chief Troy Oswald, and CeaseFire Director Odell Lashley.
Recalling that he attended his first CeaseFire Paterson meeting in 2006 Oswald commended the group for their staying power saying that “every other CeaseFire group in New Jersey has fallen by the wayside.
“Violent crime needs to be addressed. We need committed police, educators, and residents,” he concluded, reiterating that the group’s efforts are needed now more than ever.
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