“Some of our city’s neighborhoods and urban centers like ENY, Coney Island, Crowns Heights, South Jamaica, Far Rockaway, Harlem, and the South Bronx resemble Iraq in the day and Afghanistan during the night…”-A.T. Mitchell, Man Up Inc.
It is the first week of summer, and it has been heralded in by 33 shootings last weekend.
Early Saturday morning witnessed a young father being gunned down at a rent party. By all accounts, he was not the intended target.
“We don’t walk around with guns. We don’t have bulletproof vests. We just have heart,” said A.T. Mitchell, founder and CEO of Man Up Inc. and operator of Operation SNUG/Ceasefire East New York, the violence prevention program. He and his team of outreach workers walk the streets of East New York in the 75th Precinct, where there has been an alarming number of gun deaths throughout the years.
A sense of foreboding rested over East New York on Sunday in the wake of a heinous shooting at a rent party that left one man dead and eight people injured.
At a press conference on Saturday afternoon in front of the crime tape at the corner of Wyona and Belmont in East New York, an incensed Councilman Charles Barron told the AmNews, “Wherever A.T. Mitchell and his team go, there has been a reduction of gun crime. They talk to the people; they offer them an alternative way of thinking and behaving. But instead of Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg recognizing this achievement, Cuomo wants to cut the very effective Operation SNUG, and the mayor has cut summer jobs, closed community centers and flooded our neighborhoods with excessive amounts of cops. More rookie cops on the corner is not the solution.”
“It’s hard to discern any pattern over so short a period of time. Peaks and valleys tend to flatten out over time,” said Paul J. Browne, deputy commissioner of the NYPD. ” For example, for the four-day period beginning Friday night into Monday morning, shooting victims totaled 33 citywide this past weekend, which was the identical number for the same weekend last year.
“You just didn’t have eight shot in one incident during the same weekend last year to garner as much attention.”
Less than one day and a just a few miles from the East New York shooting, five people were wounded at a barbecue when gunmen started trading shots. While earlier this month, a 19-year-old man from East New York opened fire on the Brighton Beach boardwalk, killing 16-year-old Tysha Jones and wounding four others.
As for the Wyona and Belmont shooting, word is one young man bumped another one; someone tried to stop the subsequent tussle and wound up getting hit and pulling out a weapon then sprayed the fleeing crowd. Twenty-year-old Donzil Rodgers was shot and died from his wounds.
Three men are being held in the case. No one has been charged yet.
Rodgers’ cousin Joseph Dewedy stood and watched the many officers milling about the crime scene.
“That was my man,” said a devastated Dewedy. “He was my cousin and we stayed in the same house. I had to go tell the mother of his son what happened, and his son was looking for him behind me because we were always together. He was going to take [his son] out today, Father’s Day. But [Rodgers’] mom had to come from Jersey at 12:30 to identify her son’s body.”
Two weeks ago, the AmNews published a story about Gov. Andrew Cuomo no longer funding the year-old Operation SNUG anti-violence initiative. He did not respond to a request this week regarding the call by some activists to reconsider his decision in the wake of the bloody weekend.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn also did not comment on the possibility of increased funding for citywide programs to tackle inner-city violence, nor did they address questions regarding youth programs, especially for the summer.
“The primary reason for the youth gang issue in certain parts of the city, Brooklyn in particular, is often times easy access to weapons,” said Chief Philip Banks, head of the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau. “A few things have to be done to find a way to stop this easy access. Often times we will hear that gang violence is the issue, but the problem is the access to the guns.”
Banks said that the city as a whole has to “continue to strengthen certain things, such as gun laws, and [stem] the easy access [to guns] from other states. We have to [explain to] all residents in the city that this is both unfortunate and unacceptable, and take certain measures to make sure that we all get more involved in the lives of these particular youths.”
“I’m sick and tired of this madness,” said Christopher Foye, whose 13-year-old son, Chris Owens, was killed by cross fire two years ago at a barbecue in Harlem. “You know the shooting is out of control when the victims get younger and everyone around the gunman is getting killed!” By setting up the Chris S. Owens Foundation, the anti-violence advocate said he is determined to find activities and events to keep young people occupied, from basketball tournaments to business workshops.
“This weekend’s gun violence incident in ENY, which involved nine gunshot victims, with one confirmed dead, has further traumatized a community that has had more than its share of events like this,” said Mitchell. “The blood of these young shooting victims are on the hands of all those who know very well that this issue has spiraled out of control into a epidemic and fail to do anything concrete about it. We, the grassroots leaders and organizations, have been consistently speaking out on this issue for far too long to no avail.
“Our city is in a state of emergency. Some of our city’s neighborhoods and urban centers, like ENY, Coney Island, Crowns Heights, South Jamaica, Far Rockaway, Harlem and the South Bronx, resemble Iraq in the day and Afghanistan during the night.”
Surrounded by a team of outreach workers, Mitchell added, “Our communities are under siege, and law enforcement by itself is obviously not the answer. With successful anti-violence models like Operation SNUG and the Ceasefire Chicago brand now in our city’s midst, there is no reason why the governor and the mayor should not make the replication of this statistically proven program a priority in this year’s budget.”
State Sen. John Sampson, who was instrumental in setting up Operation SNUG, told the AmNews, “Over the last week or so, Brooklyn has experienced a spike in violence and shootings. Whatever the reasons are for this tragic phenomenon, any kind of violence is deplorable. There are no winners here – only victims. Gun violence has been on the rise in Brooklyn and this is a worrying development. One shooting is one too many, and 22 is clearly unacceptable and a cause for grave concern. The SNUG program in my district has worked to help curtail gun violence since I funded it and made it operational.
“Unfortunately, due to serious budgetary constraints and priorities, this program is now in danger of becoming de-funded. I join with other elected officials who have called for us to take another look at this program. I will do my best at the Senate level to put pressure on the Republican majority to keep this program in place. This program saves lives and we should not be penny-pinching when it comes to the lives of our young people.”
Mitchell praised the sentiments of supporters such as Sampson and his fellow activists, who take to the streets every night to talk to young people who may be about to get into trouble. “Credible people from the community who are not armed with guns, vests and badges, but equipped with enough heart to walk the most dangerous streets at night as outreach workers and violence interrupters and work with the most high-risk individuals in our communities with one major goal in mind-reduce the shootings and killings-is a move in the right direction. This is the type of community enforcement that is needed in order to turn our neighborhoods back into safe communities.”
Barron said, “We don’t need more police-that obviously isn’t working. What we need are jobs, programs and resources for our young people. We understand that the person who pulls the trigger is ultimately responsible for their actions, but we also recognize that dire oppression-economic, social, political and definitely racial-also plays a major role in creating an environment that leads to some of our young people taking a certain undesirable path.”