“We know our community,” said A.T. Mitchell, founder and CEO of the anti-violence, street-based organization Man Up! Inc. “We love our community. Let us protect our own community and stop the violence.”
Mitchell was speaking to the Amsterdam News after a shootout in downtown Brooklyn left one teen dead and another shot in the leg. The violent fracas left bystanders, shoppers and witnesses stunned.
“These community organizations are once again calling on the mayor louder than ever to fund them as they save lives in the streets,” said Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Barron. “People are asking ‘How many more need to die before the mayor gets it?’”
The Police Department said in a statement that on Monday, Oct. 26 at approximately 6 p.m., “Police responded to a call of an assault in the vicinity of Flatbush Avenue Extension and DeKalb Avenue.”
Queens resident Armani Hankins, 16, “sustained a gunshot wound to the head and was removed to Brooklyn Hospital, where he was pronounced DOA. A second victim, an 18-year-old male, was shot in the left ankle and removed to Methodist Hospital, where he is in stable condition. No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.”
Mitchell said having community residents working as trained “violence interrupters” to regulate the community not only makes sense but also has proven successful across the nation in decreasing the murder and violence rate.
“As we have done in East New York, we canvass the neighborhoods by making our presence felt in various hot spots,” said Mitchell, “and we build relationships with youths, families, business people, religious leaders and community leaders. That is the difference between us and the PD. … We canvass. The police have a job to do, and we, the community, have a job to do.”
Flooding the area with officers is not the answer, Mitchell contends. “We get to the root of the issues,” he said. “We know these communities. Just like others are given resources to police their neighborhoods, we want to be able to canvass ours in a comprehensive manner. We want the resources and recognition that we have been—and we are—working diligently to keep our communities as safe as possible. And that benefits everybody.”
“That is an excellent idea that we should get behind,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, hours before Tuesday’s wake began for gun-slain officer Randolph Holder. “This idea must be on the table, especially in this climate, and I will bring it up with the mayor.”
The Amsterdam News asked Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office for comment regarding his thoughts on groups such as Man Up! Life Camp and Street Corner Resources being involved in fully operational street canvassing of their respective neighborhoods.
“By leveraging credible messengers in neighborhoods around New York City, we have been able to connect many young New Yorkers to a network of services that supports them on a path to a positive lifestyle,” said Monica Klein, deputy press secretary from the Mayor’s Press Office. “This is part of our comprehensive approach to reducing gun violence, with programs currently operating in 17 precincts.”
Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., de Blasio and Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton announced the indictment of six men for selling 74 illegal guns and ammunition to an undercover police detective posing as a Manhattan-based gun dealer.
“In less than six years, my office’s Violent Criminal Enterprises Unit and our partners in the NYPD have taken more than 1,000 illegal guns off city streets over the course of 21 indictments filed against 64 gun traffickers,” said Vance. “These deadly weapons will no longer be able to shoot, maim or kill New Yorkers.”
Downtown Brooklyn along the Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue corridors have been scenes of recent violent, and now fatal, brawls. Students from several schools converge on the busy shopping district as they make their way home. Some students whose schools have had longstanding issues often cross paths, sometimes with violent consequences.
Mitchell said he would apply the same strategies to any and every part of the city where a hotspot emerged.
“As we do in other areas, here we would work with the schools and housing developments, which is where many of these issues are stemming from,” he said. “We want the city to give us access to schools and children involved in street activity, as we have done in East New York and throughout the city, like South Bronx, South Jamaica Queens, Red Hook, Fort Green, Brownsville, Far Rockaway and Staten Island. We partner with other street-based organizations and, using our Cure Violence Model and Crisis Management System on a city level, we have been able to reduce violence in the areas in which we are deployed.”
Mitchell said the violence-prevention groups Man Up! works with include Erica Ford’s Life Camp and the Furtado Brothers’ King of Kings, both out of Queens; Iesha Sekou’s Harlem Street Corner Resources; and SOS and GMAC, out of Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Because of the positive impact of their violence reduction efforts, Mitchell told the Amsterdam News that his group and SOS now share an office in Kings County Hospital.
“They love us because we provide the bridge,” he said. “We ease the pandemonium in the hospital as we comfort and talk to the victim’s family and friends. We try and reduce the trauma as we talk to the victims/patients before they go into surgery and after. And when they are released, we work with them to try and prevent them from returning to some of the street activities that they had been involved in.”
Sharpton told the Amsterdam News that Mitchell and street organizations are essential in battling inner-city violence. “I think it is an excellent idea,” said Sharpton. “A.T. and other organizations like his have a proven track record. They can relate to the kids, even the ones who are hardheaded. Erica Ford and her Life Camp and A.T. and Man Up! are passionate and dedicated. This is what they do.”
“Our work is proven to be successful,” said Mitchell, “and we should be funded by some of those very same businesses in the downtown area where the shooting occurred on Monday evening. We were there in the street and in the hospital. This is a public health crisis affecting the whole city. The private sector needs to step up and use their private dollars to make our streets safe.
“The community has to step up with efforts, so that organizations already in place like ours can play the vital role in protecting the neighborhoods in which we live, and shop, and work. I think we should be able to go to hot-spot areas like downtown Brooklyn, and we are looking for any elected official who has the testicular fortitude to sponsor us or at least not hinder us as we try and go about our anti-violence work. We have done it successfully in the inner-city communities in which we already operate, we want to spread this tried and tested blueprint city and nationwide.”
“We should bring back the Nation/Fruit of Islam to patrol the NYCHA buildings like they used to,” said Barron. “And I think A.T. and Man Up! are doing such a great job that they should be expanded to Red Hook, downtown, Fort Green and Bed-Stuy. You can’t just offer up increased policing as a solution while ignoring the unemployment rate, the non-building of youth and community centers and not funding community patrols which work effectively.”
Nation of Islam member Derek Muhammad noted that when the Nation of Islam had contracts in housing projects in the city, “NOI Security successfully curbed the violence until those contracts were taken away from us. Our people are calling for us and they trust us. When we left housing areas like in Coney Island, the violence spiked. We cleaned up the projects in the area. We used to go door to door to the root of the issues and we stopped potential violence. Women felt safe women and children were able to come out to play.”