Gun violence made headlines again this week.
The NYPD told the AmNews that “shootings to date are down 5.6 percent: 374 for this year compared to 396 for last year.”
Those stats, though, provide little comfort to families and neighborhoods terrorized by errant gunfire. This past weekend, Corey Squire, 17, was shot in the back of the head on a Harlem Street. The murder was captured on video and was promptly sensationalized by tabloid media. A week before, 13-year-old Christopher Owens was hit in the head by a stray bullet at a Harlem barbeque. His family switched off the life support machine a couple of days later. He is being buried on Monday.
On Saturday, May 9 from 1 to 4 p.m., mothers who have lost their children to violence will lay the shoes of their children across 126th Street, from Malcolm X Blvd. to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., to represent the lives lost by small arms fire in the community. Organizers such as New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Harlem Mothers SAVE (Stop Another Violent End) and Rev. Vernon Williams (Perfect Peace Ministry) are inviting all families of murdered children to attend and bring shoes labeled with the names and photos of their loved ones.
This, like Pastor Williams’ impromptu march through Harlem on Tuesday afternoon, is designed to strike at the nerve of those who allow or participate in the gun violence marring the inner cities.
“We don’t make these guns, dammit,” stormed an incensed Assemblyman Keith Wright, empha- sizing the widespread frustration that some feel is the uncontrolled influx of illegal weapons in urban communities.
“I’m so glad that Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. is around because we’ve got too many guns on our streets. We have to get to the bottom of how these guns come into our community. We, as parents and legislators, have to do better. Young people playing with guns is a result of neglect.” The Harlem elected official continued, “It is an indictment on government, on the education system. And parents have to be more proactive and frisk their children before they go out.” Seeing a gathering of 30-50 kids on any inner-city street corner is nothing new in the spring-to-summer run-up. Idle hands find something to do, and what with the economic crisis and cuts across the board, plus the closing of community and recreation centers, a repeat of the crowds looks pretty likely as summer looms.
“Summer jobs will be in place, “Wright assured. “There is $30 million for summer jobs citywide, but we need to do more. We need a whole change in the culture in how we handle the streets. We need to shoot off our mouths rather than our guns.”
Erica Ford, co-founder of Queens-based youth organization LifeCamp Inc., said, “The nature of our society is a violent society, and we subliminally reward people who are violent. The media hypes up crime and violence and scandal. We don’t get the same degree of attention for positive achievements.
“Money is put into incarceration, not sustaining positive behavior.”
“Unfortunately for us, when the sun comes out, so do the guns,” Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron told the paper. “We have to stop this madness, this self-destructive behavior. Our community must organize and unite so we get our youth off the street and into recreation centers and jobs. The city needs to prioritize the youth. The mayor needs to put more money into our youth than he does rich developers. He needs to build more youth centers, rather than these billion-dollar, tax-payer-funded sports stadiums. No police containment can end crime–only economic solutions, job creation and quality education.”
“Engaging the youth is the only option,” said New Black Panther Party Youth Minister Divine Allah. “We speak with the youth wherever we find them, whether they are coming home from school or just hanging out on the corner. You shouldn’t have to call the police on every situation. You should be able to call on a father, an uncle or a brother. Black on Black violence is a serious issue, but this circular oppression–as Franz Fanon described it–needs to be addressed from top to bottom [with] religious, economic, political and social solutions, not just law enforcement.” “Too many of our young people are allowed to rule our blocks,” said retired detective and Queens City Council hopeful Marquez Claxton.
“They reject authority, family and community and operate as if they own the streets that they were raised on. Without the intervention of the community, these gangs will flourish and create war zones where we live. Because we ignored the early signs of gang behavior, we are now reaping what we sowed. This violence is now a pandemic that needs direct community correction. These killers are not outsiders, they are our neighbors and sadly, too often our children.”
“The shootings are not isolated incidents. They reflect the gentrification of the neighborhoods and the isolation and criminalization of our young people and the lack of proper funding for alternative programs in the inner cities across the U.S.,” said Shaka Shakur, chairman of the New York chapter of the New Black Panther Party and youth organizer for the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood. “We need to get into the street and engage young people and patrol our communities–not only in the event of a crime–and show our youth that we care. It is time that Black men stood up to defend and protect.”
Jackie Hilly, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, organized a “lie-in” last month to protest the easy access to guns, and to commemorate the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings. Last month also saw the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings.
“This is why we need to enact sensible gun laws on a local and federal level,” Hilly told the AmNews. “We have two pieces of legislation going forward: Micro-stamping allows police to pick up gun casings at crime scenes and trace them back to the semi-automatic they were fired from. It’s like a DNA print, where each shell casing is imprinted with a number which goes back to the gun.” Hilly said the Assembly has passed this legislation already.
“We also have legislation on the federal level trying to close gun show loop holes. Thirty-two states do not do any background checks whatsoever, and that leads to an unending supply of illegal weapons into New York,” she told the paper.
Erica Ford recalled, “In 2006/2007, the City Council allocated, but never actually gave, money to prevent gang violence to over 50 organizations. Expecting the money, some organizations put their hands in their own pocket and spent what they had on their various programs, but the City Council never gave them the money. As a result, some valuable organizations folded, and some former gang members who had turned their lives around got frustrated and probably returned to the street.”
Fortunately, Ford contended, “If we come together, we can stop the minority who commit the violence. I urge people who have the power: radio stations, TV stations, print media, elected officials, athletes and entertainers–who sometimes play a role in hyping up the beef in our community–to instead support organizations such as the I Love My Life Campaign and the Bury the Beef Campaign to make peace and safety a reality for our children.”
For more information on Saturday’s rally, call Rev. Williams at (917) 545-4613.