New safe-streets group brings “the moral imperative to act”

Sunday was the first time I’d seen Amy Cohen outside without a jacket. Since her son, Sammy, was killed on Prospect Park West last October 8, she and her family have fought through their grief to become the most outspoken advocates of livable streets in the city. When I’ve spoken with them over the past four months, it’s been at cold-weather events: the vigil for Lucian Merryweather, the Vision Zero celebration outside the inauguration, the memorial for Ella Bandes.

Cohen wore a gray pinstriped suit on this 50-degree afternoon to introduce Families for Safe Streets, a new coalition of families who have lost loved ones to traffic violence. Over 200 advocates stood on the steps of City Hall behind her, shielding their eyes from the bright late-winter sun. They held signs saying “20 is plenty” and photos of children killed by automobiles.

Families for Safe Streets is just one of many groups that have begun in the past few months, such as Make Brooklyn Safer, Make Queens Safer, and Park Slope Street Safety Partnership. I asked Cohen where this new coalition fit in. “I think we bring something that’s different,” she said. “Sadly, we have a painful story to tell, and I think it helps lend the moral imperative to act.”

According to Cohen, Families for Safe Streets has already enlisted three dozen families, in part through its website. “Every day I wake up, I get more emails,” she told me.

Joining Cohen in front of a dozen microphones were other relatives, many holding back tears to share their grief.

There was Dana Lerner, whose son, Cooper Stock, was killed by a taxi driver on the Upper West Side last month. She called for reckless hacks who kill to lose their licenses permanently, since, “as professionals, they should be the best drivers in the city.”

Judith Kottick, who lost her daughter, Ella, a year ago at a notorious intersection on the Bushwick-Ridgewood border, spoke of Ella’s zest for life and adherence to the rules.

Gary Eckstein, Amy Cohen’s husband, took to the podium to speak on how Sammy’s death has flipped his family’s life upside-down.

David Sheppard, who lost his girlfriend, Sonya Powell, on Baychester Avenue in the Bronx in 2009, told of how he was almost killed on the same speedway just days later.

Amy and Hsi-Pei Liao, parents of Allison, a 3-year-old killed while holding her grandmother’s hand last year in Queens, took turns sharing their sadness. “No one should ever have to watch their child be resuscitated in the ER, and later told, ‘Sorry,’” the father said.

And perhaps most powerful was Greg Thompson Jr, the brother of Renee, who was killed crossing Third Avenue on the Upper East Side on her way home from a shift at Dylan’s Candy Bar.

Greg spoke of how, growing up in the Bronx, his parents were most concerned about gun violence – yet it was on the streets of one of the safest neighborhoods in the city that Renee lost her life.

These advocates aren’t the first to fight for safer streets after losing someone they held dear. The family of Mathieu Lefevre led an uphill battle against the NYPD and the City, with little media fanfare. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of curbing traffic deaths has changed that focus, and there were several cameras and journalists scribbling on notepads.

Unfortunately, the recent flouting of traffic laws by de Blasio’s security detail has deflected the conversation, at least temporarily. It comes as no surprise that the ever-intrepid reporters at the Post decided to make that the focus of their piece, with the headline “Mothers of kids killed in traffic accidents rip into speedy mayor” (I refuse to link to it). They somehow missed this line:

… and this one:

Although some outlets will grind their axes no matter what, it’s clear that the livable-streets movement is light-years beyond where it was even a year ago. It’s these valiant men, women, and children – the ones who have lost the most – who will continue to lead the way.

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  1. Pingback: Families For Safe Streets | Make Queens Safer

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