Young people need opportunity
Manhattan District Attorney | , Cyrus Vance | 1/26/2012, 11:09 a.m.
On the one-year anniversary of the deadly shootings in Tucson, Ariz., this month, I stood side by side with families robbed of loved ones because of gun violence. In Harlem and across the country, thousands of people lit candles in memory of shooting victims and called on law enforcement, elected officials and the community to work harder to stop senseless gun deaths and keep our kids and neighborhoods safe.
There is no greater mission for the Manhattan district attorney's office and our partners in law enforcement than public safety, but our crime prevention efforts are not limited to prosecuting cases. We must continue to build strong partnerships with the community. Police officers and prosecutors are public servants tasked with the critically important job of keeping New Yorkers safe. By developing closer ties with the community, we can improve our ability to protect that community.
To this end, we are looking to parents, teachers, church leaders and other community members to help us protect young people. Even more troubling than the prevalence of street crime is the fact that both the perpetrators and victims of violence are getting younger. Last year, roughly 200 people were shot in Manhattan, and a quarter of the victims were 18 years old or younger. Likewise, about 20 percent of defendants indicted for possessing loaded guns last year were 18 or younger. These kids should be heading to college or good jobs, not prisons or early graves.
Clearly, we all must do more to give young people greater opportunities to stay on the right path and away from gangs, guns and street violence. One recent such initiative is the Police Athletic League (PAL) Pro Hoops Basketball Training Camp, which gives kids a fun, safe place to go on weekend nights, often the most vulnerable hours for young people.
Dubbed "Saturday Night Lights" because it opened a gym that had been closed on Saturday nights for the past five years, participants learn basketball skills from Pro Hoops NYC, one of the country's leading programs responsible for training NBA players and young students alike. Kids interact in that positive setting with prosecutors and police officers who serve as the program's guest assistant coaches.
This Saturday, the program will host its second tournament at the PAL Harlem Center, which will bring together the kids, their families and friends and members of the law enforcement community for a 3-on-3 tournament, followed by a game between the kids and NYPD officers.
The program-funded by my office and the Drug Enforcement Administration through asset forfeiture money from anti-drug cases and operated by the PAL-has one straightforward goal: keeping kids safe.
Another critical component of our crime prevention efforts is early intervention, because what we've seen is that many of the young men and women who commit violent crimes began by committing smaller offenses. That's why we have expanded the work of the Harlem Youth Court to include cases involving young people charged with low-level misdemeanors and whose prior records are minor. We have also been working on a truancy reduction program with the PAL to keep kids in school and away from crime.
Community partnerships bear fruit not only in youth outreach, but also in our enforcement efforts. That was underscored this past November when we broke up a drug ring operating out of a furniture store in Central Harlem. That investigation was initiated after neighborhood residents reported suspicious activities to my office.
These drug dealers weren't just selling small amounts of marijuana to occasional drug users-they were selling in bulk to other dealers, and therefore drawing in violent criminals to the neighborhood. However, thanks to community members who spoke up, we were able to reclaim another city block for its residents.
As 2011 came to a close, the city announced that crime rates have continued to drop. There is no doubt that working together with New Yorkers has been critical to law enforcement's successes. Law enforcement officers are advocates for crime victims, but we are also advocates for everyday New Yorkers. We hope that by maintaining a strong partnership with community members, we can reduce the violence that plagues our neighborhoods and give young people the future they deserve.