Wagner Houses Community Helps Take More Than 40 Guns Off Streets


Wagner Houses residents and NeighborhoodStat team at the Harlem Peace March on July 31, 2020.

Residents at Manhattan’s Wagner Houses worked with government partners to organize a gun buyback that helped get more than 40 firearms off the street to help keep the Harlem community safe.

Resident leaders within the public housing development worked with the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety (MAP) to mobilize a response to ongoing neighborhood concerns about gun violence. Within a few weeks, residents connected with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the New York City Police Department to host the event on October 17 event at the Bethel Gospel Assembly Church.

In the more than 20 years that Cheryl Starks Payne has lived at Wagner Houses, she says she has seen gun violence take a toll on not just her neighborhood but also her own family. 

A member of the MAP Stakeholder Team for Wagner Houses, Cheryl explained it was important for them to do something to prevent the violence. “We have to get these guns off the street,” she added. “We proposed gun buyback as part of our efforts to improve safety in our neighborhood.”

Once the community decided to organize the event, the residents worked with the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety to secure support from other government partners and organize with local organizations with deep connections to residents. Residents leaders like Cheryl then worked to get the word out of the event throughout the Wagner community.

“Residents continue to show up in their communities as leaders in defining and creating safety,” said Renita Francois, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety. “The presence of weapons in our neighborhoods will never be commonplace. We are proud of the Wagner NeighborhoodStat team for initiating a successful gun buyback.”

The Wagner NStat team activated their public space throughout the summer for community resources including health screenings, pop-up playgrounds, yoga sessions, and other activities that encourage wellbeing and unity. Such events are a part of the “Safe Places, Active Spaces!” Neighborhood Activation Playbook, a how-to guide for residents and local organizations on activating public spaces.

MAP Engagement Coordinator Marcus Johnson, who through the Center for Court Innovation helps the MAP Stakeholder Team coordinate its work, praised the Wagner community’s solidarity in the face of the trauma it’s faced in recent months.

While dealing with the same issues and disparities that have disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities during the COVID-19 crisis, Marcus also said the recent loss of a resident caught in the crossfire motivated the team to do something.

“That’s when residents rallied together to denounce violence and promote peace and unity,” Marcus said. “Taking one gun off the street can positively impact the lives of dozens.”

If you are a resident within a MAP development and would like to organize similar community events, email us or contact your MAP Engagement Coordinator.