March 25, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
Around 40 people gathered outside the Woodside Houses NYCHA complex Thursday to call for an end to local gun violence and to demand justice for the victims of recent shootings.
Elected officials, community leaders, residents and family members of the victims came together outside 50-51 Broadway to condemn a series of shootings that have taken place in the neighborhood this month – which have rocked the community and left residents in fear of walking the streets.
Some of the attendees carried signs that read “make our streets safe again” and “I should not be afraid to walk outside.”
Several held signs with the words “Justice for Gudelia Vallinas,” in reference to the 37-year-old mother-of-two who was killed by a stray bullet while walking near the NYCHA complex on March 12.
Two other shootings, one fatal, have taken place outside the housing development since.
On Tuesday, Elliot Clairborn, 29, was gunned down on 49th Street and later died. A day later, a 32-year-old man was shot in the back outside the complex on 49th Street near 31st Avenue. He is expected to survive.
The Thursday rally was organized by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and was also attended by State Sen. Jessica Ramos and City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.
At least two city council candidates were present, including Tiffany Cabán, who is running for the District 22 council seat, and Brent O’Leary, who is running for District 26.
Richards said that he was “sounding the alarm” about the rise in shootings and said that the neighborhood belongs to the people– not the perpetrators of gun violence.
“Over the course of the last two or three weeks, we’ve seen our streets turn into a war zone,” Richards said.
“These are our streets, these are not your streets. The residents of this community… deserve to be able to go out about their business without dodging bullets,” Richards said.
Richards said that the death of Vallinas, in particular, was “senseless” and that she has left behind two children.
“The pain of knowing that their mother will never return is unspeakable, it’s tragic, it’s unacceptable,” he said.
Richards called for comprehensive gun control as well as more funds allocated toward programs that aim to mentor young men and stamp out gun violence.
He said that many men have found it tough to find employment and have been “underserved” by city programs. He said many have been pushed into joining gangs to survive.
Police say that Vallinas was shot during a gang-related dispute.
Vallinas’ widower, Alfredo, spoke affectionately about his wife at the rally Thursday and told the attendees that he and his wife had been together since they were teenagers.
“They did not only kill a wife, and a mother, a friend–they also killed me too,” Alfredo said.
“I know that I’m not going to see her again and that pain will never go away,” he said, as he fought back tears.
Alfredo said that she came to Queens from Mexico and that she was a devoted mother and wife.
He warned that no one will be safe if the violence continues.
“I do not wish this on anybody. Today it was my family… but tomorrow it could be yours,” he said, adding that they would have been celebrating their 15-year wedding anniversary in May had she not perished.
“I just want the streets to be safe again, we shouldn’t be living like this, like animals,” he said.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who grew up just two blocks away on 47th street, said people should not have to live in a neighborhood where they are at risk of being killed by stray bullets.
“The streets should be safe to walk for everybody at all times… so put the damn guns down!” Ramos shouted. “We can’t allow any more [young] children to bury their parents.”
Ramos suggested that conflict resolution skills be taught in the community to quell the violence.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the 26th District which includes the Woodside Houses complex, said that the community was united as “one family” against gun violence.
Van Bramer said that some of the solutions to stop the bloodshed should include building a new community center in the area as well as investing in community programs for young people like violence interrupter initiatives. These initiatives typically lead to the formation of community groups, where the leaders aim to settle local disputes before they spiral out of control.
“I’m calling on the mayor to fully fund these programs to … have these opportunities for young people that we know prevent gun violence,” Van Bramer said.
“Woodside houses is a great community made up of great people and every single person deserves to be safe,” he said.
Other speakers included Cabán, pastor and community leader Bishop Mitchell Taylor, the president of the Woodside Houses Tenant Association Annie Cotton-Morris, and the president of the Astoria Houses Tenant Association Claudia Coger.