Jason Epting, 44, a Mott Haven resident and a member of the “Mott Haven Families” group, says he feels concern for his neighborhood every time he sees a reporter covering a crime scene in his neighborhood.
“I’m thinking to myself this is a beautiful area, like we have great people, we look out for each other, there is hope, there is happiness,” said Epting. “Even in the midst of poverty we have people who look out for each other and this is a very unique and special place.”
Epting holds peaceful demonstrations, hosted by the Mott Haven Families group and organized by his wife Jessica Epting every Sunday at 10 a.m. on 138 St. and Alexander Avenue, right in front of the the 40th Precinct station house. There he is joined by a small crowd of familiar faces from the neighborhood.
“It is a perfect space, and a perfect space is a perfect opportunity,” said Epting.
Families with their kids arrive here every Sunday where they write their messages on the ground with chalk while Epting delivers his speeches, before the group leaves to march in Mott Haven.
“We started protesting directly, kind of at the height of protests after George Floyd’s death,” said Epting.
He said June 4th was a memorable day for the neighborhood, as it prompted some bigger protests to take place. But at the end of his block at 136 St., a lot of protestors were arrested and “brutalized by the police.”
“There is no way we could just stand for this and stand by and just do what we had normally been doing,” said Epting. “We need to do more right here in our community.”
Epting would like to work alongside the local precinct as long as the police sees his community respectfully. He says there are people with families, having ambition and goals, love and joy in his neighborhood.
“If they just look at us like criminals, then that is never going to happen,” said Epting. “And my children don’t deserve that, I don’t deserve that, noone in this community deserves that.”
His activism is not limited to police brutality, rather for having good schools, health care, and tenants having a healthy relationship with their landlords as well.
“We’re going to fight for whatever injustice is in our neighborhood,” said Epting.
“I think there is this image that we don’t like the police but that’s not it,” said Thomas Rivera Patterson, 29, an NYU executive and a volunteer for Mott Haven Families. “We just know that the training needs to be improved”
Patterson wants a police force that the community can feel comfortable around, and which protects them.
“We’re human beings, and we just want to be protected, that’s it.”
He acknowledges that the police is trying to improve its standing in the eyes of residents, through its community affairs officers and other affiliations, but says more improvements are needed.
“Personally I would love to engage with the police more and see even for this community how we can improve things,” said Patterson.
“A week ago, we were asking ourselves should we be here,” said Epting when asked about how long he intends to continue his protests. “Then the lack of police officers being brought to accountability for their murder of Breonna Taylor just came out”
Epting says that the president has made comments that don’t fit into the democracy of what we think about the United States. “At this moment I’m not going to stop until I feel like things are moving in the right direction,” he said. “And we still have more to do after that.”