by Tamara Johnson
“It all happened so fast. The guy was coming in our direction and we just ran. I didn’t even know I was hit,” Curtis J recalled. Curtis was shot in the face while waiting for his mother outside a grocery store in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in December 2015.
The U.S. Army chief warrant officer had come home for a short visit and took his mother shopping, never imagining that someone would shoot at him. “I felt the bullet bouncing around in my mouth so I kept it closed tight. The bullet was hot.”
Curtis asked us not to use his full name. But his story is one of many that show how guns affect life in our communities. Curtis suffered extensive damage to his tongue and lost several teeth as a result of the shooting. The shooter turned himself in after he realized that he shot someone he knew and the Army told Curtis that he can’t visit his old neighborhood and remain on active duty.
“Growing up, you didn’t see [guns] like that. Having them was one thing but using them was another thing,” he said. The suspect intended to rob Curtis and made off with the black SUV that belonged to Curtis’s mother. “He was just looking for someone to rob. He knew me, but he didn’t know it was me until the next day.”
In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, the discussion of guns and violence hits close home for many. According to the New York attorney general’s analysis of ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) reports between 2010 and 2015, there were 52,195 crime guns recovered in New York alone. Ninety percent of those guns were recovered in New York City, Long Island, Rochester, Lower Hudson Valley, Capital Region, Syracuse, and Buffalo. Despite these statistics, only 14 percent of the guns originated in New York. That means 86 percent were purchased out of state.
Military members take mandatory military weapons training, and Curtis points out that most are aware of the harm that guns can do. He laughed when asked about the role of guns in work life. He said, “We are professionals at our jobs, we don’t just handle weapons. I’m an aviation pilot.”
For him the shooting caused a personal struggle. “I used to have a gun outside of work. Getting shot made me paranoid,” he said. “Afterward, I found comfort in my mind instead of my weapon… [guns] make the weak powerful and the strong weak.”