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Youth SHIELD aims to stop violence through changing physical conditions

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 8/10/2012, 11:19 p.m.
Youth SHIELD aims to stop violence through changing physical conditions

City Council Member Inez Dickens and Council Speaker Christine Quinn held an emergency meeting in Harlem last week to address the number of deadly incidents that have taken place across the city. Community leaders, the NYPD, public housing tenant association presidents and clergy were invited to the meeting to weigh in on the issue.

Quinn and Dickens held the meeting to give an overview of a new initiative created by the City Council's Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, chaired by Council Members Jumaane Williams and Fernando Cabrara, called Youth SHIELD. The initiative targets neighborhoods with the most gun incidents in all five boroughs with the goal of improving physical conditions to deter violence.

Working with residents and community leaders, neighborhoods would get more lighting, graffiti removal, vacant lots cleaned up and abandoned cars removed in a effort to enhance safety. Youth and the community would be involved in the cleanup effort.

"We know that one of the ways to help reduce crime is to also to focus on physical conditions," Quinn said. "We've seen work in other parts of the country where you focus on that type of an effort and it can be helpful to the work that police are doing."

In April, Quinn's office met with Inspector Rodney Harrison of the 32nd Precinct in Harlem about a list of various hotspots around the neighborhood. Youth SHIELD will also target the 75th Precinct in East New York, Brooklyn, the 40th Precinct in the South Bronx, the 113th Precinct in South Jamaica, Queens, and the 120th Precinct in northern Staten Island.

The City Council recently allocated $5 million towards funding anti-gun nonprofits and programs that serve youth in the city.

The meeting also highlighted recent violence that had taken place in Harlem's 32nd Precinct. With the use of a map, Harrison explained to the group hotspots around their neighborhood where violence has occurred and problem gangs, including the 40 Wolves, Goodfellas and 2 Deep. One area that was a particular problem is West 129th Street, where gang members threatened to shoot in retaliation after the fatal shooting in June of Hakeem Green from St. Nicholas Houses. To much criticism, Harrison closed down the block by keeping a heavy police presence in the area.

"That was my reasoning to ensure that if you don't belong on this block, you don't walk on this block," he said. "It's just until we get a little bit of a better idea of exactly what's going on. Where I made a mistake was doing a bad job of notifying the residents on 129th Street. We have not had any incidents on 129th since I posted cops over there on a regular basis."

Dickens said that while she heard complaints about the policing on the block and wanted police to leave, parents who live on 129th Street told her to keep them there in order to stay safe.

"The parents asked me, 'What are you going to do when your child gets killed?' They said they feel safer because we know a war is about to occur," she said. "That's from the parents who live there because they wanted their kids to be safe from the war going on between St. Nicolas Houses and Lincoln Houses."