Belgium Mayor Visits Assemblymember Latrice Walker in Brownsville to Learn About Anti-violence Initiatives 

Posted By NYC Newswire
By Mary Alice Miller for distributed by NYC Newswire
During the United Nations General Assembly, a delegation from Belgium trekked to Brownsville. Led by Mechelen Mayor Alexander Vandersmissen, the group was prompted to make the visit by a June 2023 New York Times article about the Brownsville Safety Alliance.
“A member of my team read it and suggested while we are here in New York City, we could learn about social welfare in Brownsville,” said Mayor Vandersmissen. “I asked if we could meet up to discuss what they do and how it works.”
A 2-hour roundtable took place at Assemblywoman Latrice Walker’s district office on Rockaway Avenue. In addition to Assemblywoman Walker and Mayor Vandersmissen, members of Brownsville Safety Alliance participated by sharing their experiences addressing crime.
“The Brownsville Safety Alliance has a demonstrated history of not only preventing crime, but also directing people to services they need,” said Assemblywoman Walker. “Keeping our community safe requires an all-hands approach, treating crime like the public health emergency that it is.”
Assemblywoman Walker recalled a situation in which a young man was near an incident but not directly involved. Police arrested him to get a witness statement. The young man was given $1.00 bail. A family member did not have the transit fare to go pay the $1.00 bail. As a result, the young man remained in jail, and as a result lost his job and apartment.
“This is why we needed bail reform,” said Walker.
“We have already tried to work with the police,” said Mayor Vandersmissen. “Some issues we tried to organize ourselves to try to solve the problems. We also talk to different people in the communities and the police force to see what we can do.”
Mechelen has a diverse population among its 90,000 inhabitants, 35% are as a result of migration. The largest immigrant group is Moroccan.
Mayor Vandersmissen said his city does not have gun crime, but does have a problem with party drugs and cocaine. “We have fewer guns and very strict gun regulation,” he said. “We also have a strong social security health system than here.”
As the city’s population began to change around the turn of the century, “we changed our policies to focus on basic public safety,” said the mayor. “We put cameras in public areas. What we have done for almost 20 years is invest in infrastructure, social housing and schools.”

“And,” he said, “we have a positive, inclusive narrative. Remember, I am the mayor. We are all Mechelen. We have a Moroccan community, an Armenian community… We look at each other as part of the community. People don’t feel disadvantaged or left behind. We have always thought and acted like that.

“In those 20 years our city fundamentally changed. We invested a lot in social housing. After the investments in housing people said ‘OK, we are not just in the suburbs where there is no investment. We are also investing in us. So, we are also Mechelens. We are citizens.'”
Mayor Vandersmissen said he got a general overview of BSA’s initiatives and impact. “Some of your elements are innovative. I think it is something we could consider from the European perspective,” he said. “We would like more details, more numbers and statistics, and take it back to Mechelen. I always work in detail.”
The mayor added, “For some problems we are going to try to do it ourselves. It is not easy. But what you are doing here is also not easy.  We empower people.”
“I was honored to host Mayor Alexander Vandersmissen in Brownsville. I hope that he can borrow from the successes of the BSA and incorporate some of their strategies into the crime prevention initiatives in his city of Mechelen in Belgium”, added Walker.
When asked how she felt about the Mayor of Mechelen coming to Brownsville, Assemblywoman walker said, “Was I shocked? No, I wasn’t. Brownsville has international recognition. We went from notorious to notable.”
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