This week marks National Crime Victims' Rights Week, and the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office held their yearly VOICE OUT event to honor victims of violence. This year's specific theme, gun violence, is especially timely given the defeat of several gun control measures in the U.S. Senate last week, as well as the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut shortly before Christmas.
District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, who regards his job as "an advocate for victims," slammed the Senate for what he called "a total lack of courage."
"The Senate shamefully failed us," he said. "Not to pass legislation that would prevent guns from being in the hands of seriously mentally ill people or convicted felons, how in the name of God do they justify not voting for that legislation?"
Hynes said guns are responsible for an overwhelming majority of the homicides his office prosecutes.
"It's always been 75 percent," he explained. "When we were losing 760 people a year it was 75 percent; last year we went under 150 murders for the first time since 1960, but it's still 75 percent."
And according to Hynes, the vast majority of guns used in these crimes come from out of state, making federal legislation actually very relevant to the safety of New Yorkers.
"Now it's really up to the public," Hynes said. "I would hope that the people wherever these folks are from, wherever they represent, will stand up and say, 'We need someone else to represent us.'"
The event's three speakers had an intimate understanding of the ramifications of guns on New York City streets.
Robin Lyde lost her son Benny—a model oldest brother, she said—when he was 21 years old.
The night he was shot, she heard the gunfire from her bedroom.
"When I heard it, I was petrified because I had children downstairs," she said. She ran into the living room to check on her young twins and their friends. "I looked at everyone and said thank you God, everyone is OK."
But she was compelled to look outside, as the gunshot had been so close, and there she saw her eldest son in a pool of blood on the street.
Lyde said part of what keeps her going is the work she is doing to try to stop gun violence.
"I am out there begging our young people, our old people, not to pick up a gun, not to take lives," she said.
Yvette Bell, with her daughter Nyree Stevens-Credle in a wheelchair besides her, spoke of the night Nyree was shot in the neck. The bullet lodged in Nyree's spine and she was paralyzed from the neck down.
Nyree was in Brooklyn and her mother was in the Bronx when Bell got a 4 a.m. phone call from someone who said, "I don't know who you are, but your daughter is lying in the street, she's been shot."
It was Christmas night and, unable to find a taxi, Bell took the longest train and bus trip of her life, she said, desperate to get to her daughter, worried she would die alone.
And Diana Carnival, whose husband was shot in an armed robbery at his car dealership, addressed women who may be going through what she went through.
"I'm sure you feel so lost right now," she said, cautioning that the journey they faced would not be easy, that it will be a day-by-day process to get to "the light at the end of the tunnel."
"Courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I will do it again tomorrow," she said.
Her children wanted to come to the event with her, they told her, because there would be other families like them there, and maybe other children too.
"It took this day for my children to realize that we are not alone in this situation, that there are other people like us," Carnival said.
Ultimately, the event is meant to provide catharsis to those whose lives have been shaken by gun violence.
And it seems to work, as the women who spoke of their loss left the event smiling, touching one another's shoulders, and calling out hellos to the DA staff who helped them through what many describe as an incomprehensible experience.
"Anytime you need me to speak anywhere," Yvette Bell said, hugging District Attorney Hynes goodbye.
"You're terrific," he replied, holding her hand in both of his. "You're very courageous."
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat