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The 56th annual Old Timers Day in Brooklyn was winding down on Saturday, and the final R&B band of the night was leading the crowd in a rousing rendition of “Family Reunion” by the O’Jays.
The beloved, days-long community event in Brownsville was drawing to a close under a clear summer sky.
Then gunshots rang out, sending thousands running for cover.
At least two gunmen had opened fire, killing a 38-year-old man and wounding 11 people in the crossfire, the police said.
“It was pandemonium,” said Bill Blount, 42, who took cover against a wall with his 5-year-old daughter, London. “She was crying. People were screaming and running.”
The police were investigating whether the shooting was linked to a gang dispute, but had made no arrests by Sunday evening.
The man who was killed, Jason Pagan, was released on parole in January after serving about two years in prison. The police believe he was a Bloods gang member.
The shooting shattered a long-held peace at an event that had endured without violence since its inception in 1963, officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a news conference on Sunday morning at the scene, lamented the violence at a gathering that had long been “an example of everything good about Brownsville.”
Latrice M. Walker, a native of Brownsville who represents the neighborhood in the State Assembly, said the shooting broke a “code” — an unspoken pact to avoid violence at the event, which she said symbolizes the predominantly black neighborhood’s resilience.
“Growing up is an anomaly in our neighborhoods,” she said. “And so for individuals who are in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s to be able to enjoy themselves and come back and just connect is a seminal moment for us.”
The shooting, she continued, “has shocked our community to its core.”
The violence — one of at least two deadly gun battles over the weekend in New York — quickly eclipsed what was becoming a success story in Brownsville, a neighborhood scarred by decades of official neglect, deep poverty and street violence. Shootings had been declining this year in the neighborhood despite a slight rise in gun violence across the city.
More than 100 police officers were on duty at the party when the shots were fired minutes before 11 p.m. near the intersection of Christopher and Hegeman Avenues, where about 2,000 people had gathered in and near the Brownsville Recreation Center, at the edge of a playground, the police said.
Mr. Pagan was shot in the head as he was waiting for an Uber, according to the police and Ms. Walker. He was the second of his siblings to die in a shooting, she said.
Mr. Pagan’s death was a painful turn of events on an already somber occasion for Ms. Walker: Her 19-year-old brother was shot and killed 32 years ago to the day on Saturday, a murder that left his 11-month-old twin sons without a father, she said.
“I’m hurt,” Ms. Walker said. “I’m mourning.”
The police did not say whether any of the victims — seven men and five women who ranged in age from 21 to 55 years old — had been the targets of the gunfire, or if the gunmen had indiscriminately strafed the crowd with bullets.
“We thought it was firecrackers,” said Reuben King, 78, who uses a walker and was making his way toward home. “Next thing you know, it’s a shooting.”
Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who represents the neighborhood on the New York City Council, said an aide grabbed her and ran with her to a car for cover. The gunmen, she said, showed “total disregard for human life.”
A 55-year-old man was in critical condition on Sunday at an area hospital, and police officials said he was fighting for his life. Other victims remained hospitalized in serious condition, and several had been treated for their injuries and released.
The police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, asked people who had been at the playground to send any videos from before, during or after the shooting. “Please, please turn that over to us,” he said. “It would be very helpful.”
A gun was found at the scene, the police said, but investigators had not determined if it was used in the shooting.
Videos circulating online after the mayhem show the police trying to gain control of a chaotic and sprawling crime scene full of residents and strewn with food containers, bottles, chairs and tables. The bloodshed turned police cars into ambulances as officers helped to rush victims to the hospital.
And it disrupted what in many New York City neighborhoods is an annual summer ritual. Even in some of the city’s grittiest corners, warm-weather block parties draw neighbors outside for conversation, food, drinks, games and music. Saturday’s Old Timers Day capped more than a week of festivities that included musical performances, a fashion and talent show and a street festival.
The event draws people back to Brownsville from as far away as Maryland and the Carolinas, residents said. One victim, a 55-year-old man who was shot in the back and hospitalized at Brookdale Hospital, is a basketball coach for the Police Athletic League and lives in New Jersey.
He told Ms. Walker at the hospital that he had helped to serve fish at the annual Friday night fry, which was part of the festivities, she said.
The number of shootings in Brownsville has declined from last year, according to police data through July 21, the most recent available. This decrease has defied a rise in violence in other parts of northern Brooklyn that the police have said has contributed to the uptick in shootings. Citywide, there have been more shootings and slightly more people struck by gunfire so far this year compared with the same period in 2018, records show.
Brownsville drew renewed attention last week after video surfaced of a man there pouring a pail of water over a police officer’s head. The video was one of at least four that escalated a public debate about how restrained officers should be when they are humiliated or taunted by the public.
Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, said Saturday night’s shooting stemmed from the city’s failure to support anti-violence programs that work in crevices of the city where violence remains stubbornly high. He called for more funding for programs that have been proven to defuse tension before it escalates.
The city spends $36 million on its Cure Violence programs, but Mr. Adams said that is barely half of what is needed. Additionally, he said, the city is often late to pay groups that do the work, leaving them unable to pay staff members who risk their lives in combustible situations.
Mr. de Blasio, at the news conference, vowed to increase funding and interagency support for Cure Violence programs, and he described the goal of getting guns off the streets as “our most essential mission.”
Some of the anti-violence programs still encounter opposition from hospitals and city agencies, but resistance is most acute from the police, said Mr. Adams, a retired New York Police Department captain and the co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care.
Mr. de Blasio has embraced a neighborhood policing program designed by Mr. O’Neill, and the two frequently speak of crime-fighting as a two-way process that requires the police and civilians to work together. But Mr. Adams said that in some neighborhoods, officers view community input as an insult rather than a partnership.
“Those terms about community and police coming together, those are bumper stickers and slogans,” he said, adding it is “not a reality in all communities.”