In the past two weeks, four New Yorkers have been killed by reckless drivers while walking on the sidewalk. At least one senior has been killed in the crosswalk. The victims came from every walk of life, from many different corners of the city, and ranged in age from 9 to 79. Last night in Jackson Heights, family, friends, and neighbors of people killed by drivers joined elected officials and advocates to march for justice and demand action from the city.
The march covered a mile and a half along Northern Boulevard and 37th Avenue, from Corona to Jackson Heights. Along the way, the group of nearly 70 people stopped at crash sites to honor victims. The march was organized by Three Children Too Many, a Jackson Heights-based group that formed in response to the vehicular killings of young people in Queens, including Jahir Figueroa, Miguel Torres, Luis Bravo, and Allison Liao.
Family members spoke about their loved ones, pleading with the city for action and asking drivers to stop engaging in reckless behavior. Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao spoke movingly about their daughter Allison, 3, who was killed by a turning driver while walking in the crosswalk with her grandmother on Main Street in Flushing.
Christina Lee of Elmhurst was there to remember Luis Bravo, 19, killed by a hit-and-run driver in Woodside in September. “It hurts. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about him,” she said. “He was my daughter’s boyfriend. He was always at the house; he was like one of my own children.”
Bravo’s mother does not speak English, so Lee has been acting as the intermediary between her and the police, who have still not caught Bravo’s killer. “I tried to talk with a detective on the case,” Lee said, “but he just told me basically if they haven’t caught the guy who did it after a week, then it’s going to be really hard to track down the person.” Lee has not heard anything from the detective in about three weeks and is planning to return to the 108th Precinct with Bravo’s mother to make sure NYPD hasn’t given up on the case.
At the corner of Junction Boulevard and Northern Boulevard, where Jahir Figueroa was killed by an alleged drunk driver, Bravo’s mother pleaded with State Senator José Peralta. “Yo quiero justicia… Ayúdame Señor Peralta, ayúdame!” she said. “Ya no queremos más muertes.” (“I want justice… Help me, Mr. Peralta, help me! We don’t want any more deaths.”)
In addition to Peralta, Assembly Member Francisco Moya, Public Advocate-elect Letitia James and Council Member Julissa Ferreras spoke during the march.
Ferreras said that when she was fifteen, two of her friends died after being hit by a drunk driver on Northern Boulevard. “I don’t want to hold any more vigils. I don’t want to go to any more funerals,” she said. Ferreras said the city must change its default position on traffic safety by not waiting until an intersection is proven dangerous before it qualifies for traffic calming. “We’re building all these new schools — speed bumps should come automatically with the package. We shouldn’t have to request one after a kid is hit,” she said.
Ferreras also cited a lack of enforcement against dangerous driving. “People need to understand that you will get arrested and you will have jail time,” she said. “If you’re driving recklessly, the penalty should be just as severe [as if you’re drunk].”
Cristina Furlong, a Jackson Heights mother and organizer of Three Children Too Many, said she is planning a forum in January to maintain pressure on the city for action. Similar events are being planned in Park Slope and Fort Greene.
Letitia James, who will be sworn in as public advocate in January, said she has heard of a similar effort in the Bronx. “Something needed to be done on a citywide basis, and as the next public advocate I want to house and coordinate all of these task forces under one umbrella,” she said. “Why is there not more attention being paid to this issue, and why is it that our code — our criminal code and our civil code — do not reflect that level of seriousness?” she asked. “Perhaps some politicians need to be educated about the serious nature of these types of offenses.”
James said she is hoping these neighborhood-level task forces produce legislative recommendations that she can introduce in a package to the City Council. She also said she’s looking for Mayor-elect de Blasio to address the issue. “I would just like him to make note of the reality of the situation — just the number of deaths that we’ve seen,” she said. “He’s not our mayor yet, but come January 1, the first hundred days will determine whether or not he’s serious about this issue.”