The episode of family violence that occurred on Monday, April 5th at the Van Dyke Houses in Brownsville has deeply saddened the United for Brownsville (UB) team, and the mothers, fathers, and grandparents who lead our Family Advisory Board (FAB). Our hearts go out to the Barzey/Spears family at this unimaginably difficult time. While details are still emerging and there is surely more we don’t know than do at this point, this tragedy does lay bare some of the structural inequities that have for far too long undermined Brownsville’s capacity to respond to violence like this.
One of the strongest laments from the FAB was a feeling of helplessness and a sense that the community was unprepared for how to support the family victimized by the violence and to address the emotional needs of bystanders and neighbors who have been traumatized by acts of violence. They communicated that Brownsville does not have an adequate crisis support structure for non-gang related violence. UB is grateful to be able to connect our own stakeholders to mental health supports to assist in processing the community trauma that we know follows this type of violence. And yet, as we make these needed connections for the small group of Brownsville residents that lead our work, it is all too clear that there are not nearly enough mental health and crisis counselors in Brownsville that have the existing relationships so crucial to delivering culturally sensitive support to those who need it.
Furthermore, the NYPD response to post patrols in front of Van Dyke Houses in the days subsequent to this incident has served to further stigmatize and even criminalize residents in the area. This response, while typical after gang violence, seems inappropriate to the context of family violence and further exacerbates tensions and demonstrates an insufficient crisis support structure in Brownsville.
As this tragic episode relates to UB’s mission to improve early childhood systems in the neighborhood in response to families’ concerns, there are precious few organizations with a specific focus on childhood mental health in Brownsville. That the few who do exist weren’t well-enough known to the authorities to be immediately brought in underscores a lack of investment in both funding and professional relationships on the part of NYC’s municipal government. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, where concerns about domestic violence have been both heightened and inadequately addressed, the need for investment in existing and new family-centered mental health support in Brownsville can no longer be sidelined. UB and the FAB intend to be part of ongoing conversations with partners in the community, advocacy organizations, and funders to increase family mental health capacity in the neighborhood in ways that ensure the community can more adequately respond to family violence in the future.