OPINION: Saving Children’s Lives Should Not Be Open to Debate
“Having eyes, see ye not? Having ears, hear ye not? How is it that ye do not understand?” — The Bible
Apolline Mong-Guillemin led a short life — just three months. But her life, which ended because it’s too easy for reckless drivers to kill pedestrians in this city, must have a greater purpose.
The short life of Baby Apolline is a tragedy in the classic literary sense: An ending that was ostensibly pre-ordained by fate — in this case, the fate we all face every day because of decisions made by our city government to prioritize the movement of people in cars over the movement of everyone else.
In the face of civic disengagement, we have been consistently advocating for local government to provide meaningful and effective measures to protect human life from crashes, yet our greatest challenge comes not from the Department of Transportation, but from many of our neighbors who lack the understanding as to why certain road-safety features must be put in place to reclaim our streets to save lives. But Baby Apolline showed us, as so often happens in life when someone comes into the room and forces us all to stop and recognize that something is wrong.
In this case, it is something so simple: That the city has failed to redesign the last half-block of Gates Avenue and make it a car-free plaza — as it has done with many stub ends of roadways along Fulton Street — because a small, car-owning minority has defiantly seized the curbside, which is public space, to park six cars. As the City of New York has experienced countless deaths due to car-crashes, how much must we endure before we have another explosive moment similar to Baby Apolline because many care more about saving a parking space than saving a life?
We have witnessed enough children dying by way of speeding cars and we have had enough prayer vigils to prove it. Think of Baby Apolline as a sign — and if you follow a sign, it will lead you somewhere. And this sign should it lead to understand the need to change. It should lead us to act promptly to prevent further mishap. And it should lead us to do the right thing.
I have even moved from saying “Baby Apolline” to “Angel Apolline” because she is an angel guiding us as we fight for safe streets, here on Earth.
If you are wondering why I have so much to say, it’s because I was there. I saw the car driver kill her. I saw her father pick up her limp body off the ground. I heard him begin to scream in agony, “My baby, my baby!”, a cry that I cannot get out of my head although it lasted for just a few seconds. It is one thing to read about a fatal car crash, but it’s another thing to witness it in real time. It will change you and your outlook on issues concerning cars and safety.
I now walk with this emotional pain and great sadness, yet also with greater resolve to stand up for the proposal to remove cars from the western half-block of Gates Avenue, and turn that squib into a plaza that we hope to call “Apolline’s Garden.”
I know that Apolline’s Garden would represent a low cost for saving lives, but we must stand against the few small and cold voices that disagree.
Renee Collymore (@reneecollymore) was a longtime Democratic district leader in Fort Greene and is president of the Vanderbilt Avenue Block Association.