The death of an 83-year-old Roman Catholic nun in Harlem on Tuesday serves to highlight a fear that there will be an uptick in crime. A series of shootings citywide has intensified public concern in this, the first week of summer, as the days heat up in more ways than one.
“Despite the widespread manipulation of the crime stats, there is most definitely an uptick in general crime,” said Marquez Claxton, the director of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance. “The seasonal crime trends usually means that there is an increase in crime. There’s usually less murders in the winter, but with the summer here and 90-degree heat and the rest, we unfortunately expect to see more crime.”
Sister Mary Celine Graham, of the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary in Harlem, was hit and killed by a minivan, which was being chased by cops. Horrified onlookers had witnessed the nun and her aide waiting to cross Malcolm X Boulevard at 122nd Street around 9:30 a.m. when the vehicle ran into them.
The Police Department said that cops had pulled over three suspects in the minivan in relation to a robbery, which had just occurred on Malcolm X Boulevard between 122nd and 123rd streets. The van was stopped on West 141st Street, and while officers pulled the driver out, the other two suspects drove off, chased by an unmarked police car.
Running through a red light, the van hit a Honda Odyssey and pedestrians.
“On June 22, in the early morning hours, two victims state they were robbed by two male Blacks driving a blue Chrysler Pacifica with New York plates,” wrote 28th Precinct Deputy Inspector Harrison in a statement sent to the Amsterdam News. “The first victim was robbed at 1:50 a.m. by perpetrators who displayed a silver handgun and took U.S. funds from the victim and fled. The second robbery took place at 3:50 a.m., where an iPod was stolen from victim. Both victims described the perpetrators as two Black males in their 20s.
“Having been debriefed by the description of the perpetrators and vehicle, a patrol unit was dispatched to 141st and Lenox Avenue in the confines of the 32nd Precinct at 8:49 a.m. A description of the vehicle used in the robberies just described matched the description of a vehicle in the vicinity. Officers approached [the] vehicle using extra precaution, apprehending the driver of the vehicle, a male Black 18 years of age.
“[The] passenger of that vehicle then jump[ed] into [the] driver side and sped off, heading southbound [on] Lenox Avenue with patrol car following them remaining at least a block away in distance from the vehicle. At 122nd Street and Lenox Avenue [Malcolm X Boulevard], [the] robbery vehicle [ran] through a red light, hitting a parked car, thus causing [the] robbery vehicle to tailspin out of control, hitting three pedestrians standing on the median of 122nd and Lenox.
“Pedestrian No. 1, a retired nun, was critically injured, resulting in her being pronounced dead at Harlem Hospital later that morning. The other two pedestrians remain in stable condition. Two occupants of the vehicle used in the robberies were also listed in stable condition. We have [apprehended the other two suspects].”
“Let’s cut to the chase here. We have an outbreak of criminal activity, especially around the four block square area southeast of 125th and Lenox,” determined Chet Whye Jr., director of the HARLEM4 Center for CHANGE.
In a request to the Police Department, Whye added, “In order to prevent this situation from spiraling out into something totally out of control, we need a rigid model of cooperation and communication between the residents of the area and the department.
“My concern is that the relationship between the general community and NYPD is being compromised by the perception of the policing paradigm in the area, which was exacerbated by the tragedy on Tuesday morning that took away our beloved Sister Mary and left others injured and many more shaken.
“This warrants a real meeting with community leadership to lay out concerns and forge a global strategy to deal with this situation and get us through the summer.”
Maintaining their call to parents to help end violence, Harlem community leaders took their message to where many believe the violence originates.
An anti-violence rally at the Lincoln Houses projects on Friday urged parents to become more involved with their children, along with calling on residents to take back their neighborhood. The evening rally, led by community organization Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., was held in what leaders call a hotbed for shootings and fights. Recent violence in Harlem has stemmed from Lincoln Houses, which has a heavy gang and drug problem, according to residents.
Much of the violence from the housing development occurs during confrontations between rival gangs from nearby neighborhoods. In a recent incident, residents reported a shootout between teenagers and NYPD officers.
While Lincoln Houses sits directly across the street from pristine Lenox Terrace on Fifth Avenue and 133rd Street, violence still reigns. Lifelong resident of the development Tim Spears said that over the years that he’s lived in the Lincoln Houses, things have gotten worse.
He said, “It’s the young kids that are doing it. I heard shooting when I was waiting by the bus stop. It’s getting crazy to the point that they don’t have any respect for anything or anybody. It’s going to get so bad to the point where you can’t even go outside. They should send them to Iraq. If they want to shoot and kill, give them a job doing it. It’ll change their whole life.”
Jackie Rowe-Adams, co-founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E., served as leader of the rally and had a simple message to the youth in the form of a chant: “Put the guns down and put the peace sign up.” Rowe-Adams even went a step further by not hesitating to tell young men passing by the rally to pull up their sagging pants.
“There’s a lot of violence over here at Lincoln Houses,” she said. “We are sick and tired of it. If we could just get a message across to the parents and give them some solutions. The parents aren’t even out here and this is where the shooting and killings are, right over here in Lincoln. Parents should be out here because they should care about why their children are doing this.”
Along with calling out parents for support, Rowe-Adams came armed with job applications for a Marshalls clothing store set to open in East Harlem in the coming months. She said parents often blame violence on the lack of activity available for youth.
Pastor Vernon Williams of the Harlem Clergy and Community Leader’s Coalition said that leaders made a promise to go to where the problems are. Williams himself walks the streets of Harlem being on scene when violence occurs between gangs often helping to break up street fights. He has previously helped combat violence in St. Nicolas Houses.
“We want to take this over to Wagner Houses and Jefferson Houses,” he said “We’re going to go everywhere. Right now, it’s ‘code orange,’ but when we get through over here, we want to make it ‘code white.’”
Candidate for Harlem’s 30th District State Senate seat Basil Smikle was on hand at the rally helping to advocate the need to bring programs to the community. Growing up in Bronx, he understands the problem after witnessing many of his peers go down the wrong path of drugs and violence.
“I grew up in the scenario where a lot of the people that I was around were trying to make that quick money,” he said. “If you want respect in this world, you have to carry yourself like a grown man. I’m tired of seeing these young people with no opportunities who have no resources being provided for them so they can have choices.”