Davell Gardner Jr., the one-year-old boy who was shot and killed at a cookout on July 12, was laid to rest in Brooklyn yesterday, at a service presided over by Rev. Al Sharpton and Bishop Albert L. Jamison. In a somber ceremony, attended by members of the community and prominent New York politicians and public figures, speakers remembered the short life of Gardner, while calling for an end to gun violence in the community.
Gardner was sitting in a stroller at a cookout in a Brooklyn park when gunmen approached the small group and began firing, around 11:30pm. Gardner was shot in the abdomen, and died shortly after at a nearby hospital. His death came during a summer of increased gun violence in New York: in the month of June, there was a 130 percent uptick in shootings in the city from the same time last year. Last week, the NYPD reported 64 shooting incidents, a 220 percent increase from 2019.
At the service, mourners, dressed primarily in white, filed into Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy. Outside of the church, police vans lined both sides of the street and NYPD officers escorted Gardner’s family and friends past rows of reporters. Attendees wore face masks and observed social distancing, while music filled the cavernous sanctuary. At the center of the room was a small casket, no more than three feet in length, painted in rainbow colors, with a teddy bear sitting atop it.
Bishop Jamison opened the service, and read from Psalm 91. He told the congregation that his son had died in his teens, and that it was a burden he continued to carry. “Some things you never get over,” he said, “I never got over my son’s death, I learned to deal with it. He’s there all the time.”
Clergy members, activists and politicians took to the pulpit and called on the community to not let Gardner’s death be in vain — the killing of a baby, they said, should be a shock to the city. It should spur the community to address the uptick in violence, they said, and to support each other in getting guns off the street.
Kenya Brown, a friend of the Gardner family who also lost her infant child, implored those gathered to keep up the anti-violence momentum spurred by Gardner’s death. “The outpouring of love across America is outstanding. It shows that his life mattered,” she said of Gardner. “I hope that we can all live a life that mattered as much as baby Davell’s.”
As Gardner’s father, Davell Gardner, Sr., approached the pulpit, the congregation stood and clapped. At the microphone, he began to cry, and Rev. Sharpton put a hand on his shoulder. “That was my first-born son. Our son is gone,” he said, “I don’t have someone I can watch over anymore. Someone who can pull my hand and call me ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy.’”
He broke down in tears as Rev. Sharpton held a hand to his back. He was led off the stage as the crowd applauded, and some held their hands towards him.
Attorney General Letitia James took the pulpit from Gardner, and called for those in the community who were connected to the shooting to surrender. Her faith, she said, had taught her that Jesus loves all of the children of the world. But her faith “also teaches me that there is a special place in Hell for the person who did this,” she said.
She admonished those who protected the shooters, and urged those complicit to step forward. “There are individuals in this church who know who is responsible for this,” she said. “We need to bring them to justice, and bring them to justice soon.”
Rev. Sharpton closed the ceremony with an invective. The community needs to stand up and fight against gun manufacturers, gun rights advocates, and those who perpetuate violence, he said. “If nothing shakes this community, this should,” he said, “This casket doesn’t even need pallbearers. This is a disgrace.”
He reflected the cycle of poverty and violence he witnessed while growing up in Brooklyn, and how his childhood struggles had driven him to this work. He called on those in New York to break their silence, and to fight against those bringing guns into the community.
He told the congregation that to commit violent crimes on streets named after men like Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. was shameful.
“That could have been my grandson,” he said, “I don’t care who you are, if you can look at this baby and not stop gun violence, then you are not worth anything to anybody.”
After his sermon, Rev. Sharpton led the child-sized, cartoon-character-covered casket out of the church, and into the midday July heat. Mourners followed, clutching programs with Devall’s laughing image on them in their hands. The indescribable tragedy of a baby’s photo on the cover of a funeral program was only surpassed by the words written by his mother, Felicia Gordon, inside.
“Jr. was a baby that smiled and showed his dimples with a sparkle in his eyes,” she wrote. “He loved his sister Faith and thought he was the big brother telling her to sit. My baby is in heaven and he’s the family guardian angel. He will never be forgotten.”