Revelers must know ‘celebratory’ gunfire can be deadly

Alexis Price

The horrifying sounds of gunshots on New Year’s Eve have been far too familiar for residents in the city of Detroit. However, through the determination of our outspoken community, those dreaded sounds are losing popularity as a way to “celebrate” the holiday.

Still, we all know the truth that even one gunshot is far too many.

What should be a carefree evening of parties and looking forward to the year ahead is instead reason for anxiety for the Detroit children, adults and seniors who have to stay inside their homes to avoid the “celebratory” gunfire every Dec. 31. Visitors considering coming to the city for dinners, parties and other social events were and still are often apprehensive about being outside in the city during the midnight hour. Celebratory gunfire is diminishing, but it’s still happening.

To keep the needle of change moving in a positive direction, the work of speaking out against gun violence is constant.

The overall reduction in New Year’s Eve gunfire is due to activists of all ages. Neighborhood Service Organization’s Youth Initiatives Project, which provides youth leadership and advocacy training focused on gun violence and substance abuse, launched Hugs, Not Bullets 12 years ago to educate others about the dangers of celebratory gunfire and year-round gun violence. Children, young adults and their school mentors partnered with Detroit Police and other civic leaders with affirmations that remain firm: Celebratory gunfire is unacceptable in our community.

Educators and activists taught me five years ago, when I moved from North Carolina to Detroit, my mother’s hometown, how to stay safe in a big town.

Just as they informed me to walk the main roads to school, rather than use routes of dangerous residential streets with abandoned buildings, I was cautioned about ringing in the new year outdoors. The idea that I could not go outside with friends and family to offer holiday greetings was frightening and is something I will never accept. No one should.

There are glimmers of hope, though. Detroit Police Chief James Craig confirmed last week that the public understands celebratory gunfire is not how we do things here. Despite fewer reports of it, we cannot yet rest on our laurels. We must remain vigilant in our education to make certain every young person knows that firing a weapon into the air can and does result in bloodshed when bullets return from the sky and police are vigilant in making arrests to offenders.

YIP’s Hugs, Not Bullets is successful, but the work to end this ridiculous tradition isn’t over.

We must continue to reinforce to young people the importance of not firing weapons overhead, or anywhere, as a way to “ring in” the new year. We will not keep still on this issue until the day comes when no child has to hide under the bed in fear of being struck by a stray bullet and neighbors can go outside and give each other hugs when the clock strikes midnight. We are getting closer to that day, but until then, it will take the loud and educated voice of every Detroiter to ensure that we all enjoy a happy, silent night.

Alexis Price is a peer educator with Neighborhood Services Organization and a Wayne County Community College student.