They killed him for his jacket. Raphael Ward, a popular 16-year-old whose family now has to plan his funeral. The first week of the New Year. Words cannot express …
“Killed for a coat? These youngsters don’t understand the pain they bring to a community–to a mother, father, brother–left distraught,” slammed City Councilman Charles Barron, who was raised in the Lower East Side neighborhood where Ward was murdered last Friday. “We have to address this negative energy–it is a danger to our future.”
The NYPD told the Amsterdam News, “On Friday, Jan. 4, at 21:10 hours at the intersection of Rivington Street and Columbia Street, police responded to a 911 call of a male shot. Upon arrival, police observed the victim, 16, with a gunshot wound to the chest. EMS responded and transported the victim to Beth Israel Hospital, where he was pronounced DOA. There are no arrest(s) at this time. The investigation is ongoing.”
So there is yet another makeshift memorial on another New York City street. Inner-city children are all too familiar with walking by the scenes where the messages, candles and flowers adorn the pavement, this time outside the store on Columbia Street where Ward was murdered. Children eulogizing children.
By all accounts, the tall, regular Lower East Side kid was well-known and well liked. But reportedly a group of youths tried to rob him as he sported his brand-new $600 Marmot winter parka. Shot in the chest by a gunman in a ski mask, Ward, his new jacket splattered with his own blood, stumbled into the Tearedhan convenience store, where his horrified friends had sought refuge when the initial altercation had begun. Another theory is that the shooting stemmed from a beef between kids from the Baruch projects and the Riis Houses. Meanwhile, as Ward’s family members now have to plan his funeral, video showing a group of youths allegedly involved in the incident is making the rounds on TV.
“There are some ignorant people or foolish youth who have internalized the oppression and engage in self-destructive behavior–you lose your mind and kill for a coat? That madness has to stop,” Barron said. “We shouldn’t be punks and take things out on each other during this economic oppression; we should be strong men, women and youth, and stand up against what is really keeping us in a state of economic depression.”
State Sen. Kevin Parker told the AmNews, “My prayers are with Raphael Ward’s family, friends and loved ones. As a community, we must work together to fight crime in our neighborhoods, to increase safety in NYCHA housing and to deliver stronger gun control in New York. No parent should have to mourn the death of their child.”
Chris Foye lost his son Christopher Owen in 2009, when the 13-year-old was caught in crossfire at a Harlem barbeque. Foye went on to start the youth-centered Chris S. Owens Foundation.
“I think the murder of Raphael Ward is a sign that this cycle of youth gun violence is being carried out generation after generation, with no real plan from our nation’s leaders for changing the conditions in urban communities that are causing people to react in this manner towards their neighbors,” Foye said.
“Financial inequalities and lack of education are some of the leading causes, in my opinion, of gun violence in urban communities. They cause people to act violently towards each other, without knowing how to change their situation. People who have a lack of resources and education deal with basic survival skills and basic education to handle their frustration.
What is most accessible to kids and teens in urban communities–the options are usually the cycle and learned behavior of guns or selling drugs to satisfy an instant gratification with no regard for the consequences. We need to break this violent chain of thinking and behavior and address what’s really causing this culture of gun violence.”
Author and mental health advocate Terrie Williams has spent years speaking on unacknowledged inherited psychological trauma running through the Black and Latino communities.
She told the AmNews, “I am absolutely devastated by the loss of yet another one of us–Raphael Ward, a beautiful, smart, young talented spirit–gone too soon. It is gut-wrenching and senseless to have to feel this pain almost daily. And for the young man who pulled the trigger, the question we must ask is not ‘What’s wrong with him?’ but rather, what happened to him in his life that turned him into a heartless killer? I personally believe that there is not one of us on the planet born bad, mad, evil or violent. We are born innocent creatures–then life happens to us–someone violates our spirit or our bodies. And we/they have no one to talk to about the pain and the trauma. So we take it out on the closest ‘victim.’”
Williams said this nationwide failure to address a burgeoning mental health issue does not bode well for the future.
“I spoke at a high school and showed the class’s creative spots of real people sharing their stories/testimonies of unresolved pain and trauma–my company created them with SAMHSA and the Ad Council. When done, there were tears and honesty; they were hearing their own stories. One courageous young man, 15 years old, got up and said he had stabbed a young man seven times–didn’t kill him, though. It is what he said so very clearly–something that pierced my spirit and very being. He said, ‘And he wasn’t even the one I was mad at.’ Don’t many of us lash out at others when we haven’t or can’t get at the one who really hurt us? I know I am guilty … and have dealt with my issues with therapist. It’s a process,” Williams said.
“My deepest thoughts and prayers go out to the family and loved ones left behind to mourn the loss of Raphael–particularly those who witnessed his killing. They must go somewhere, sob, talk and get help in processing what they witnessed.”
Williams concluded, “When we have horrific childhoods, witness–upfront and close–unspeakable acts of violence and trauma every day and don’t get any counseling, the cycle of violence begins and never seems to end. We must demystify the need to talk out our issues. No one should be denied. The reality is most are not getting the help to recover.”
“My heartfelt condolences to the family for this senseless loss,” Barron said. “We are all for banning assault rifles, but in our Black and Latino communities, it is not about assault rifles–the weapon of mass destruction is poverty, unemployment and neglect that the president, the governor and mayor of New York show by ignoring economic oppression.”
Supporting committed anti-gun-violence advocates like Don’tShootNYC.com’s Andre Mitchell (also head of CeaseFire ENY and Man Up Inc.), Barron added, “If they really want to address the issue, why don’t they infuse multimillion dollars into building up jobs, community resources and health services. It is time for them to take us more seriously, because we are dying.”