When will the violence end? The Lesandro "Junior" Guzman- Feliz Story
How many times have you rushed to the “store really quick”? Your neighborhood kwick stop; cormado; convenient store; corner market, or in New York’s case- bodega. You leave in your jammies, hair looking crazy, slippers on your feet and you’re out the door. You leave as you are- in your cozies, because you’ll be “back in a jiff”. Well, what if that was your last “jiff”…ever? What if just like that…your life was unknowingly, yet maliciously taken? You just….vanished? Scary thought right?
Well take the case of 15-year old, Lesandro Guzman-Feliz lovingly known as “Junior”, who was a victim to an act of gang violence and was innocently and brutally murdered in The Bronx, New York late last Wednesday, June 20. Not only was he taken in cold blood, but he was blindsided by the entire attack. A young man who was simply making a night run to the bodega, never made it back upstairs to his Bronx suburban, brick stone, apartment home.
Now this isn’t your typical story where we raise a brow and ask, “well what did he do to deserve to be killed like that??…..hmm.” Not in Junior’s case; his life was taken on a call of revenge by 5 members of the gang Trinitarios or 3ni - a violent New York-based multinational organization composed of Dominican Americans. Authorities believe his inhumane murder was a case of mistaken identity, leaving an entire community outraged and a family praying for justice and answers.
The attack happened outside Junior’s neighborhood deli on East 183rd Street and Bathgate Avenue in the Tremont section just after 11:30 p.m. last Wednesday. Junior was dragged outside the bodega, slashed and stabbed with a machete after police say the group of gang members mistook him for a rival. Mistook!? That is correct, these cowards of nature didn’t even murder the correct dude. How’s that for a headliner?
Junior, who had hopes and dreams of becoming an NYPD detective, tried to run to St. Barnabas Hospital just a block away, but collapsed on the sidewalk as he nearly bled to death on some nearby footsteps. A moment we all watched and ultimately felt through our handheld portable computers known as our cellphones.
Like most trendy things, when injustice occurs or an innocent life is inhumanely taken, awareness always starts with a clever #Hashtag campaign. On Instagram, the hashtag #JusticeForJunior was used in more than 140,000 posts. Even Bronx-Native celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B posted and shared their sentiments. Former TRL host Lala and NBA husband Carmelo Anthony, also stopped by Junior’s vigil to show their respects.
#JusticeForJunior became a trending topic on social media in minutes, bringing an entire community together demanding justice and many to tears as thousands across the world shared content of the carnage, in hopes of capturing those responsible for his death. Protesters and members of the community gathered throughout the week in front of the store where it all occurred, demanding it be shut down due to the lack of effort the store owner exemplified in helping safe keep Junior and preserve him out of harm’s way. Seeing the community gather outside the store in this fashion, reminded me of the famous riot scene from Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" after Radio Raheem's death outside Sal's Pizzaria. It was almost as if that scene was brought to life, all in the name of Junior.
It seems like every time I turn on the news…ehh…who am I kidding?! I don’t watch the news. (I know right? Me?) It’s simply not for me…anymore. As much as I am a fan and champion of good, ethical journalism- the reality behind this mask of ‘delivering information to public’, has transformed into subjectively subverting information to the masses through instilling fear and astonishment. Ultimately, desensitizing us without causing mass hysteria.
Truth is- social media is just as bad as the news when it comes to desensitizing, if not worse. As much as we desire and strive to be well-informed citizens of society, unless we are actually vested in world news and current events, if it’s not major headlines that make it to social media…the public may just not know it happened. Or worse, may not even care.
Take the graphic video of Junior struggling to stay alive outside the steps of St. Barnabas Hospital for example. In the video, we see defenseless Junior covered in blood, hyperventilating and panting as a result of his stab wounds; slowly dying on the sidewalk- anticipating medical attention. The cellphone recorded video clip of his last moments went viral- ultimately breaking the internet minutes after the scene. With so many social media users responding to his passing, speculation over the facts related to his attack began to arise from all directions.
As sad as it may be to admit, I can empathize with the generation of thinkers that depend on social media as a news outlet. That’s why Junior’s case hit me to the core. We saw how everything happened, on a platform not intended for this type of content. The development of his story did not require a news anchor or on-site reporter. Everything was presented to the public so openly. Every day I logged into my Instagram account, there was new evidence, new speculation, new rumors. It was all too real.
Surveillance videos of Junior’s assassination flooded social media timelines and began trending online practically moments after his ruthless slaying. The surveillance footage netted 2.9 million views and more than 29,000 retweets. According to ABC 7 NY, a separate tweet by an NYPD chief was viewed another 235,000 times.
Because the internet has no chill, it virtually felt like we saw him perish in a bloodbath right before our very eyes. I remember a time where social media did not allow these sorts of images to surface, let alone freely upload. Content restrictions rejected these types of images from being uploaded and shared, but in the case of 15-Year old Junior- social media may just have saved his life.
I don’t know about you, but it felt like I was right there with him. As he struggled to survive in his last moments outside on the sidewalk, I felt his pain penetrating through my screen. No one reached out to help. No ambulance came rushing to his rescue. Instead, we have a bystander recording the gory incident as others scream and yell for help around him.
What is most disheartening, is the fact the 3ni gang members murdered the wrong victim. Though we can all agree no one deserves to be stabbed to death and murdered in this fashion, it’s even sadder knowing it was a young man who had no involvement in the matter, a young teen who played video games and stayed out of trouble. A future change agent who was actually pursuing a career in law enforcement, as he was an active student of the NYPD Explorers program.
When I think about Junior and his story, it hits a little closer to home. Not only because we share the same culture, borough, and ethnicity, but because I put myself in those shoes. What if I lost my little 17-year brother? I would FREAK and completely lose my mind if something would to ever happen to him. I can’t imagine how his mother is mourning, how his siblings miss him, how his family is coping. How can anyone, especially 5 grown-ass men- take a life so viciously, so gruesome, so cruelly? Just how? I cannot even fathom the thought process of a murderer, let alone someone who murders a child or teenager. Where have we gotten as a society where we choose to kill before fighting (which I also don’t condone by the way)? But seriously, at least you have a chance at survival, an opportunity to fight back. But to be taken in cold blood for doing absolutely nothing but a blessing to others, weighs in on my heart and tears me apart.
I can’t help but cry tears for his life, his mother, his siblings, and for all those who loved him. I don’t know him personally, but I might as well have the way my heart feels. He was loved by so many, so full of life and joy, so adorable and sweet, so young and now gone.
Junior’s funeral this past Wednesday, aired on ABC NY Channel 7, was viewed by more than half a million people…and that’s just on Facebook. A tragedy we all felt and still feel. How do we heal? When will the violence stop? Can justice only be accomplished after a tragedy occurs? After an innocent life is lost. How many more #JusticeFor[INSERT NAME] can we create? Perhaps this is just the world we live in, but one thing’s for sure, we can all do our part in loving more and hurting less. As for his killers…I’ll refrain from publishing my wishes of their outcome. But where their new place of residence is now going to be, those fellas will give them just what they need.
If I can say anything to Junior....
"Junior, our heart's were touched by your tragic loss. You have an entire nation of people standing with you. You didn’t deserve to go like this. Pero trust me baby, your name and fight for justice to put an end to gang violence in the streets of New York, is not going unheard nor ignored. Rest in Paradise chulo. "