Residents and officials commemorate slain child
The corner of E. 139th St. and Brook Avenue in Mott Haven was renamed Naiesha Pearson Place on March 31st, in memory of the ten-year-old girl whose death shook the community when she was struck by a stray bullet in September 2005.
Some 100 family, friends, residents and elected officials gathered under a steady drizzle to witness the unveiling of the street sign in her memory.
“Some believe the right to own a gun is more important than our children,” said Congressman Jose E. Serrano, adding that constitutional rights can still be protected even while stricter standards are imposed on gun owners.
“We have a right to safety,” he said.
City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said city officials were at first reluctant to allow a street-renaming for a pre-teen without a lengthy list of life achievements. Mark-Viverito said they were persuaded to change their minds, because of “the impact her death has had on this community.”
Every year since Pearson’s death, hundreds have marched through the streets of Mott Haven on Mother’s Day to commemorate Naiesha at the Million Mom March, and to plead with federal officials to tighten gun laws.
Gloria Cruz, Pearson’s aunt, who has organized the march every year since in response to the shooting, told the crowd the renaming will help her niece’s memory live on, while serving as a symbol to help establish momentum to reform gun laws.
“She’s not a file in someone’s office. She’s not a statistic,” Cruz said.
Wallace Hasan, a resident of the Paterson Houses and, like Cruz, a member of the group New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said the need to curb illegal guns remains as urgent as ever.
“Every day someone gets shot, if not here in another neighborhood,” he said. “These guns have got to stop.”
Taesha Pearson, Naiesha’s mother, was called on to speak to the crowd, but was overcome with grief as she approached the microphone, and walked away sobbing.
Rene Bonilla, then 20, is serving a sentence of 50 years-to-life for the shooting. He came to the Saw Mill Playground on a September Sunday in 2005 seeking revenge against a man he’d been in a fight with. Bonilla shot and wounded him, but one of the bullets he fired struck and killed Pearson. He was chased into a nearby building by family members and residents, who caught him and turned him in to police from the 40th Precinct.