SUN'S OUT, GUNS OUT: Heatwave, COVID, poverty and societal ills blamed for crime wave

NAYABA ARINDE Amsterdam News Editor and CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 7/30/2020, 2:55 a.m.
New York City is seeing a 200% increase in violence when comparing this time to last year. Shootings are up ...
Rev Al Sharpton attends the funeral service for 1-year- Davell Gardner Lem Peterkin photo

New York City is seeing a 200% increase in violence when comparing this time to last year. Shootings are up 85%. On Sunday, July 26 alone there were 15 shootings reported resulting in seven deaths.

There were 10 more shootings on Monday, July 27. On the very same day mourners, mostly dressed in white, many teary-eyed and devastated by an unimaginable pain, looked upon a tiny brightly colored casket, adorned by a bear and an Elmo stuffed toy.

The Rev. Al Sharpton eulogized the funeral of Davell Gardner, the 1-year-old killed in Bed Stuy on July 12 as he sat in his stroller at a family cookout. Three men were also hit sustaining non-life-threatening injuries. The NYPD held Deshawn Austin as a person of interest, but as of press time a named killer has not been apprehended.

The yellow tape has gone, but yet another makeshift shrine for an innocent is maintained near Raymond Bush Park where the baby sustained a bullet wound to his stomach.

“It just hurts,” Davell Gardner said of the loss of his son. “I don’t have somebody to call me ‘daddy, daddy, daddy.’ ”

The pain reverberated throughout Tabernacle Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, as the young man said, “It was a great experience being a first time father to a son. And gun violence took my son.”

Ten minors have been fatally shot during this COVID-19 era.

Seven people were killed on Sunday, and 10 over the July 24 weekend.

On the ground in hotspot areas in East New York, Brownsville and Bedford Stuyvesant, Man Up Inc. founder/Crisis Management Systems and activist A.T. Mitchell told the Amsterdam News, “Every summer we do anticipate an uptick in gun violence. As Assemblyman Charles Barron says, ‘When the sun comes out, the guns come out,’ but this year has been unprecedented. We are experiencing a violent crime wave that we have not seen in over two decades. There has been a number of senseless killings going on all over the city.”

By press time Mitchell’s Man Up concluded the multi-partnered 14-day, five borough, 500 men challenge to put “Black and Brown boots on the ground to protect our women, children, elders and community” from gun violence. He said that with this public health crisis, “I’m contributing this to the COVID pandemic. People have been going through a tremendous amount of duress and stress, and mental anguish, and grieving. People have lost loved ones. I’m going to put it down to the pressure the police imposed on people when they began to come outside; then the George Floyd case that shed a light on police brutality, and the protests. All of these things in combination is what I attribute the uptick to. And of course poverty is the root cause. Where there is poverty there is always going to be crime. This tests our community’s resilience. I am so proud of us as a city. We have so many partner organizations that we are out here working overtime to reduce retaliations, and to try and reduce the violence out here.”

“Just as state leaders have stepped up to protect their constituents from the coronavirus pandemic, so must we step up to protect our constituents from the gun violence epidemic,” Attorney General Letitia James told the AmNews.

“As oppressive summer temperatures, heated protests, and frustrations about the spiking COVID-19 pandemic rise, so too is the incidence of gun violence in New York and elsewhere across the country. No matter the cause of this uptick or where you stand in the debate about guns, there is one thing we can all agree on: we must do all we can to keep illegal guns off our streets and any gun out of the hands of people who clearly should not have them.”

Among the shootings this week was at a vigil in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn where a man was shot sustaining non-life-threatening injuries. Reports indicate the vigil was for two teens, Kleimer P. Mendez, 16, and Antonio Villa, 18, who were fatally shot Sunday at George Walker Jr. Park.

Executive Director of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation Michelle Neugebauer said that more investments need to be made into the neighborhood for youth programs. The organization runs a summer camp but has faced recent budget cuts.

“We are heartbroken by the senseless violence that occurred over the weekend at George Walker Jr. Park—taking the lives of two teenagers in a hail of bullets from a drive-by shooting,” she said. “These young people and their families are our neighbors and we mourn the deaths of these two young men. It is so tragic that this could happen in broad daylight and at George Walker Jr. Park which was founded and is maintained by community activists in the memory of George Walker Jr. who fought to protect his block and neighbors.”

As the rise in violence continues in the city, so does the finger pointing on why it’s happening.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is somewhat under attack by some for his “holistic approach,” including tried and tested Crisis Management System, Cure Violence organizations, and violence interrupters such as Guns Down Life Up, Life Camp, Man Up Inc. and Street Corner Resources.

Other critics are decrying the Defund the Police move, which resulted in some city monies being diverted to other programs and agencies.

During his daily press briefing on Monday, de Blasio said that courts being closed are one of the factors as to why there are so many criminals on the streets causing the uptick in crime. The besieged mayor demanded that despite the pandemic era the tremendously backlogged courts must be opened immediately. But, along with many other state, city and federal agencies in the city, courts have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with closures.

“A striking reality that there’s a huge backlog when it comes to cases involving violent crime—only 50% of firearms charges have even gotten to the point of indictment,” de Blasio said. “And obviously, we need to go from indictment through the trial process and determining the fair resolution, and those who need to feel consequences have to experience those consequences in a speedier fashion.”

De Blasio sent a letter to the chief judge and the city’s five district attorneys to get things started. He added that he wants to get courts fully reopened again but safely.

“There are obvious issues of health and safety—we want to help,” he said. “We have a lot of spaces we can make available, personnel to help address the health and safety issues. But I’m going to work with all of my colleagues, the DAs, the chief judge, everyone in this system to get it right, because we owe it to the people of our communities.”

NYPD data determines the rise in crime to courts being closed. Reports indicate that 16% of people arrested on gun charges currently have an open case. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said there have been 2,100 gun cases in the last two years that are still open with half of the suspects being indicted. Those not indicted are released back into neighborhoods.

“In the last four months I would ask somebody to answer the question, how many people have had a court case disposed of which resulted in them being sentenced to state prison or Rikers Island,” Shea said. “And you’re going to see very low numbers because cases really are not being disposed of to my knowledge unless there’s no jail attached to it, and you know, the court system, the violence question, I mean, it is indisputable.”

James noted, “Since becoming attorney general in 2019, I have employed three distinct strategies to protect New Yorkers from gun violence: 1) advocating for states’ abilities to implement gun regulations; 2) removing guns from the streets through takedowns of illegal gun trafficking rings, targeted prosecutions, and gun buybacks; and 3) preventing online sales of partial guns and 3D printed guns. Just last week, my office succeeded in shutting down 17 websites that manufacture and/or sell guns and gun parts that could easily be assembled into assault weapons.”

In an op-ed in this week’s Amsterdam News, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said, “For months, the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged this country, with our city as its epicenter. Tens of thousands of lives lost and forever changed in New York City, inequities exposed and exacerbated. Now, as we see positive signs within New York in the recovery from that pandemic, a plague that has long afflicted our city is growing, claiming lives and causing devastation: gun violence…The pandemic kept us in our homes, racial injustices brought us into the streets, and now, violence on those streets has pushed us into our corners.”

While stating, “NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea’s recent comments against public officials pursuing police reform were misguided, hyperbolic and incendiary,” Williams said there must be a unified approach to combating the current deadly crisis.

Slamming “those who would consider a work slowdown, or who seek to inflame tensions rather than mend communities,” Williams suggested that “the immediate actions from law enforcement and violence interrupters must be paired with long-term strategies that uplift and strengthen the communities feeling the most pain in this moment.”

The public advocate reflected on the strategy of utilizing on-the-ground activists, and other credible messenger mentors. He acknowledged the effectiveness of “building on the existing infrastructure established through six years of the Crisis Management System, the community trust established through years of occupying the corners, we can further prevent violence through a program that meets people where they are, directly engaging individuals who may be at risk of becoming involved with violence and working with them to develop personal and professional goals.”

In need of a plan, not platitudes, Williams concluded, “The COVID-19 pandemic and the plague of gun violence are both public health crises, and each needs to be met with a public health response.”