Dozens of grandmothers, many of them touched by violent crimes in their Brooklyn neighborhoods, were recognized Tuesday for their work with an NYPD anti-violence program.
Denise Peace, 56, of Bushwick, had to learn to take care of babies again when her daughter was killed in a shootout in October. It gave Peace responsibility for raising 12 grandchildren, ages 2 to 17.
"It's hard. But I'm doing OK with the help of everybody in this room and the police department," Peace said at NYPD headquarters, surrounded by other grandmothers, police officers and clergy. "It's good for me."
Peace was one of about 60 grandmothers honored for their contributions to the Love Over Violence project, an outgrowth of the partnership between the NYPD and faith leaders in Brooklyn, designed to combat gun violence in Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York.
The clergy decided to enlist the grandmothers because they are often the primary caretakers of young men who are at risk of getting involved in violence.
"We see how important this partnership is, with the spikes in shootings we've seen recently," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, speaking to the participants before awarding plaques. "The whole goal is to give you the tools to help you assume leadership positions in your community."
"In many households, de facto, the grandmother is the head of household," he added in an interview later.
The program was begun two years ago. Police train participating community members, including grandmothers and clergy members, to identify patterns of gang membership and criminality in their communities.
The matriarchs then work together, calling each other and using their influence to prevent their grandchildren from committing violent crime. Many grandmothers also use the program as a way to maintain social ties, make friends and give each other emotional support.
"Many grandmothers have to raise their grandchildren and they don't really know how to raise their grandchildren, and they give us different people we can talk to," said Mary Casseus, 67, of Brooklyn.
After being honored, the women were given a tour of part of police headquarters, seeing some day-to-day NYPD operation from the command point of view.
The event's timing was bittersweet -- just days after the latest reminders of gun violence across the United States, including the shooting death of a 4-year-old in New York and the slayings of 12 people in a Colorado movie theater where dozens more were injured.
Peace said she was hopeful for her extended family's future. Through the help of the LOV program, her oldest grandson just found a job. And, she said, she's received plenty of help from her new friends.
"They stand right beside me, so I love all of them," she said.