Members of the National Action Network's Youth Huddle hold a prayer vigil and community rally in the Bronx on July 2 after the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Brandon Hendricks, who was killed on June 28 by a stray bullet. (294672)
Credit: Photo courtesy of Ashley Sharpton

While the Fourth of July weekend was dominated by the sound of illegal fireworks, the sound of gunshots was also in the atmosphere as New York experienced one of its most violent weekends.

The NYPD reported 45 shootings leaving 64 people wounded and 11 people dead over the Fourth of July weekend. The shootings are a continuation of the rise in shootings that occurred in June. Reports indicate that the city saw an 130% increase in shootings last month compared to June 2019.

New York wasn’t the only place where violence wreaked havoc over the weekend. In Chicago, a reported 80 people were shot over the weekend leaving 15 dead, 17 shootings occurred in Philadelphia injuring 21 people and leaving 7 dead and in Baltimore, 12 people were shot and one person was killed.

Among the dead in this weekend’s shootings across the nation are six children who were killed in the crossfire. Officials are now looking for answers on how to keep the peace in the streets.

“This past weekend New York City saw a devastating increase in gun violence, lives lost and lives forever changed, and this phenomena repeats across the nation,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “My heart hurts, and I know that pain is shared around our city. While it’s not enough, I offer my prayers for peace and comfort to the victims, to their families, to the communities impacted.”

Among the victims of last weekend’s shootings was a 29-year-old man found dead in Lincoln Terrace Park in Brooklyn, a 14-year-old shot in St. Albans, Queens and a 29-year-old man walking with his daughter in the Bronx. The NYPD also released a photo of a bullet shot into a little girl’s bedroom in Harlem.

“It’s horrific and unfortunate that the violence has continued to raise its head this year more than so last year,” said A.T. Mitchell of Brooklyn’s anti-violence organization Man-Up Inc. “It’s an indication that there’s a big problem going on throughout the city with illegal guns that are making their way onto our streets. There needs to be a lot more focus on the federal level, on the state level to stop the influx of these illegal guns into neighborhoods of color.”

During a press conference this week, NYPD Chief Terence Monahan said there are heavy quality of life issues throughout the city and that police are afraid to make arrests. He added that while violence is a problem, police are hesitant due to recent disciplinary actions and arrests of officers over recent weeks.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also signed off on several police reforms and Mayor Bill de Blasio defunded the NYPD by nearly $1 billion.

“Just about everyone we deal with is looking to fight a police officer when we go to make an arrest,” Monahan said. “It is so vital that we get our communities coming together, supporting our cops, speaking up for the police officers that are out there. Their morale is low. You’re looking at a lot of the rhetoric that’s going on out there, which is being done by a small minority of people, when the vast majority do support our police. And it’s important that we reach out to our communities, through neighborhood policing, and get them on our side, let them know how they want their neighborhoods policed.”

Williams responded by saying that no lack of funding or reforms should keep the NYPD from doing their job.

“But now, we hear unhelpful and unconfirmed accusations and reasonings for this violence–– whether civilian to officer, civilian to civilian, officer to civilian,” he said. “To blame budget reallocations, bail reforms, or banning chokeholds is a false narrative excluding the many factors leading to this moment, including a pandemic and economic crisis which have disproportionately affected these same communities.”

The AmNews spoke with National Action Network (NAN) Youth Huddle Director Ashley Sharpton and asked for her thoughts on the recent spike in violence. She believes that the rise in shootings are systemic as well as political.

“It’s ridiculous what’s happened politically around gun violence,” she said. “Some of the officers are saying they were treated wrong by the mayor or the governor and they’re not going to do their jobs because police reforms were made. I can’t put the complete blame on the NYPD because gun violence is not new. The root of it is racism and systemic oppression. We have to continue to support our anti-violence organizations and we have to do our own part individually and collectively to stop the public crisis that is gun violence.”

Sharpton added that illegal gun traffic is also a factor in the number of shootings. Guns are still getting into neighborhoods as they have before. She says more gun reform laws are needed.

Speaking often to youth in the community, Sharpton meets weekly with members of the NAN Youth Huddle virtually and said they’ve expressed the need for more mental health services. Sharpton said youth often see traumatic images of violence in the community and little is being done to deal with how it impacts them.

“Somebody needs to do something to help these young people who are seeing what’s happening,” she said. “How many people saw what happened to George Floyd? That’s traumatizing to an 11-year-old or a 12-year-old. That happened to Black man that looks like them and there’s been no accountability. The issues of mental health related to gun violence is something we are not talking about.”