As summer gets into full swing, signs of the usual deadly shootings that occur across the city are starting to show. However, local activists and community leaders say that things are likely to be at their worst this summer, especially with a lack of jobs and activities for youth.
While elected officials and the NYPD are often praised for their work cutting violence in the nation’s largest city, it’s the foot soldiers and community fighters who are the real heroes, pounding the pavement on a daily basis.
A preview of what could happen this summer was given in a recent shooting in Harlem last Sunday. Three men were wounded and one man was killed during a basketball game on 129th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. Akeem Green, 25, was killed by a gunshot wound to the head.
To get a handle on what’s going on, the AmNews spoke to several anti-violence activists and community leaders across the city about their tactics for combating violence this summer. From Brooklyn to Manhattan to Queens, leaders are changing their usual way of keeping streets safe and trying something different this year.
A.T. Mitchell, who heads the youth organization Man Up Inc. in the East New York and Brownsville section of Brooklyn, said he is hoping for a “calm and safe” summer. He blamed the city’s closure of community centers and the lack of summer jobs. Mitchell said he has a holistic plan for dealing with the violence.
“The root of the violence is poverty and despair,” he said. “We want to provide vocational training, recreation opportunities–things that can keep people busy and engaged and not bored and left alone to feed into chaos. We are also stepping up our efforts to get more volunteers on board. We are doing all of this while keeping the pressure on the city and the state to hear the cries of the families of the victims of violence.”
Focusing on southeast Queens, Erica Ford of LIFE Camp Inc. is launching a pilot program two years in the making. The program will offer services and outreach to cut down on violence in the community and put social workers and life coaches on the streets.
“It’s really about working with organizations to intensify, shaking up the community and getting involved with the response,” she said. “This is really an all-hands-on-deck situation. The violence can be resolved tomorrow with someone taking this issue and championing it. The city can do it and it’s not an economic issue–Obama got $30 million in the number of times he’s visited the city. Let’s get the job done.”
In Harlem, Jackie Rowe-Adams, co-founder of Harlem Mothers Stop Another Violent End (Harlem Mothers SAVE), recently held a press conference about Sunday’s deadly shooting. Partnering with another community group, Rowe-Adams is helping young people get jobs along with registering people to vote. Harlem Mothers SAVE helps youth gain the skills to obtain jobs, like interviewing and proper dress.
Rowe-Adams said, “We have to depend and reach out to organizations; we just can’t rely on the elected officials. The funding that is needed for the things that we are trying to do to stop the violence should come from corporations and even some entertainers. After this latest shooting, Harlem Mothers SAVE is calling for a safe summer.”
Gun prevention program Operation SNUG, which has its headquarters in Harlem, is also bracing for the summer by using its team of street outreach workers to keep shootings under control. Robin Homes-Myers, who serves as the organization’s project director, said SNUG is continuing to use the “Operation Ceasefire” model used in Chicago that puts “interrupters” in the middle of high-impact situations.
“One of the things SNUG is thinking about is creating events like a basketball tournament, community panels and a mock funeral to get the attention of folks,” Holmes-Myers said. “What we are looking at is getting to those who are likely to be involved in violence. A lot of time, recreation is lacking, and if we can get them to be proactive, things will start to change.”
Holmes-Myers added that Operation SNUG is also planning trips that will take young people out of the community for activities like weekend camping trips.
Another champion in the fight to keep Harlem streets safe is Pastor Vernon Williams of Perfect Peace Ministry. Williams is well-known for his on-the-ground involvement on the streets, often being directly in the middle of violent crimes as they happen.
Williams noted that this summer will be especially severe because of what he refers to as an “age up” among gang leaders. Every three years, according to Williams, a new breed of those who commit violent crimes hit the streets in an effort to prove themselves to other teens. The results can be deadly.
“New kids in leadership have to make a name for themselves,” he said. “Every time at the end of the school year is going to be crazy–this year is going to be very violent if the community doesn’t get involved.”
Partnering with New Song Church and the North Star Neighborhood Group, Williams is coming up with strategies to get youth involved and guns off the streets with the community’s help.