Photographs by Jamel Shabazz

Photographs by Jamel Shabazz

The statistics were staggering. During the 1980s, “A man had a better survival rate fighting in Vietnam War for nine years, than a Black man fighting to survive in an urban city for one year.”

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When Jamel Shabazz returned home from the Army to his native Brooklyn in the summer of 1980, he discovered the streets had been turned into a war zone. He picked up his camera and began his mission to engage people and find out what was going on. Shabazz has used photography as part of a humanitarian mission that kept him connected to the streets, operating as an independent in what became one of the most deadly war zones in the New York City’s history as the years progressed. The photographs Shabazz has selected (photo collage, above) are portraits of brothers who died violent deaths in 1981. He speaks about his mission to honor these men, may they Rest in Peace.

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Please talk about what you saw when you returned from the army during the summer of 1980? What were the conditions in New York like at that time? And how did this inspire you to begin using your camera as a tool to connect with the people of New York?

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Jamel Shabazz: What captivated me the most upon returning home was seeing how so many of my peers’ little brothers were now rising stars in the neighborhood. Many were just a few years younger than me now in their mid-to-late teens; they were continuing much of what we started, but on a whole new level. When we came up during the 1970s, the usage of the 007 switchblade was a common weapon of choice. Gun ownership was rare, and if a person had a .25 automatic or .22 revolver that was a big thing. Now it seems like everyone had an assortment of weapons and a strong desire to get a ” REP”.  The 9mm would make its introduction along with the Uzi machine gun, and life as we knew it would be forever changed.

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Read the Full Story at NYC, 1981

Portrait of four young men on a crowded street on the Lower East Side, New York, New York, 1982

Portrait of four young men on a crowded street on the Lower East Side, New York, New York, 1982