As a parent, the loss of a child can only be described as our worst fear. When that loss comes unexpectedly and at the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect, it can seem like something straight out of a nightmare. In 2005, for Mike Tucker, that nightmare unfortunately became reality when his son, Stephonne was killed by NYPD officers in what was ruled an “accidental shooting”. Rather than be consumed by the anger of the circumstances and grief, Mike Tucker chose to fight for unity. At a time we look to heal as a nation, the work being done by Mike Tucker and his Lay The Guns Down Foundation is certainly the foundation upon which we can build.
“After Stephonne’s death, I couldn’t stay silent. I could not sit still and do nothing about the situation I and so many parents before and after me were going through. I wasn’t angry though. I was not going to be the angry parent. To me I want ALL the violence to end. Police, gangs, drug dealers, whoever. We all need to stop killing each other!” It was on this premise that Tucker began “Mike’s Campaign”. It didn’t matter if it was a community event, a city council meeting, or just a regular day, Mike Tucker was there spreading his message to end gun violence and preach unity. “I wanted to put my feet to the pavement and get to work. I was not out there on a mission to talk down to the police. I was out there to end all gun violence and we started gaining a ton of momentum.” In 2007, shortly before the Virginia Tech shooting, Mike Tucker was connected with NYGAV (New Yorkers Against Gun Violence). After the tragedy occurred, they organized a city-wide lie-in where they actually laid down in the busy streets of NYC in memoriam of those killed but also as a way to further their cause. It was a truly powerful moment in time.
The following year is when Lay The Guns Down and Mike Tucker started to see their rigorous work pay off in monumental ways. Mike began to gain the attention of now NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio and advocate to end gun violence, Jackie Haley. Around 2008, Mike Tucker was afforded the opportunity to speak at the State Capitol in New York and make a presentation to state senators, congress members, lobbyists and more at New York State Lobby Day. Mike knew just the way to make the most of the moment and present something that would grasp their attention for good. Mike reached out to the New York Giants. You see, this was right around the time that former Giants WR Plaxico Burress had a highly publicized incident at a NYC nightclub that resulted in a self-inflicted gunshot wound and 22 months in prison. “I knew that despite the unfortunate circumstances, the Giants organization and I could make a powerful statement together, especially when presented to legislature. They were hesitant at first, but we were finally able to put together an anti- gun violence PSA which, along with my own story at Lobby Day, received a standing ovation.” This was a moment that Mike finally knew that his mission was truly being heard for what it was. “Alot of the time, myself and so many others are looked at as only angry. Angry, black men and women. That was not the case. I am a grieving father. There are thousands of parents who are grieving just like me due to gun violence and how out of control it is. In that moment, I finally felt like we were seen and heard for being parents, smashing that stereotype at that time. It was empowering and I know Stephonne was looking down proud.”
Since that day, Mike has continued to run Lay The Guns Down in the spirit of unity. He has become the Community Events Coordinator together with the Mayor’s office and the NYPD among others. He has been at the forefront on many key anti-gun violence rallies, charity functions, celebrity basketball games, you name it. Every event that he plans or attends, every conversation, everything is done hand in hand with the NYPD and they are heavily involved with community events within the city. “I am not at war with the NYPD. I am at war with guns being used in the streets of Brooklyn and everywhere really as the primary means to solve a problem. I am sick of burying men, women and our children due to gun violence. The only way we can make real change with this is by doing this together. And I know it won’t all change overnight, but if I can change one person’s mind or make one person turn in their gun instead of using it on the street and ultimately save a life? Yeah, that is what I am all about.” It is this message of unity that Mike bring’s to every school he speaks at, every basketball game or clinic he organizes, every moment of every day this is what he carries with him. This past year with the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the highly publicized murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others has certainly brought up its share of challenges but ones that Mike Tucker has been more than willing to meet head on. “It has been an incredibly emotional year for everybody. I more than most understand the anger and frustration everyone has been feeling this past year. There had to be a solution and a way to quell the unrest that came about after the murder of George Floyd. “I approached Mayor DeBlasio urgently, I told him that as a city, we had to do something. We had to let everyone know that their voices were being heard. That as an organization and as a city, that of course we stand with them. That is when the idea to paint “Black Lives Matter” in all 5 boroughs came about. I personally went out there with hundreds of citizens, police officers, city officials and painted these murals not to only make sure that everyone knew they were heard but also again to keep pushing the message of unity. It was a transcending moment. People of all races, occupations, backgrounds all came together and created a beautiful thing for all New Yorkers.”
Along with the civil unrest, came unfortunately those that took it too far and began to riot and set fire to their own cities, something Mike has stood vehemently against. “Look, I understand the anger, I understand the pain. My son was killed by New York City Police officers. But when a tragic event happens, we have to reel in those emotions before it gets out of control. We have to calm down, get past the anger and get the facts first. If I am not out there rioting and looting, no one should be.” Mike Tucker has been through what no parent should have to experience. However, sometimes through tragic loss of life, something amazing can be born. The work that Mike Tucker and Lay Your Guns Down is a prime example of that. The work that saves lives daily. The work that continues to unify those who remain divided. The work that will last and be felt for generations to come. For more information about how you can get involved with Lay The Guns Down and help out, please visit their Instagram page @thecommunityhub1. They are also available on Facebook at Lay The Guns Down Foundation.