Members of Brooklyn community organization Man Up! Inc. (304036)
Credit: Jamal Simon photo

New York City saw a high number of violent incidents last weekend with 16 shootings and 17 victims during Saturday and Sunday. Officials and community leaders are searching for answers to quell the violence for the upcoming summer season.

The NYPD reports last week that in total 50 people were shot in 46 shootings. One of the victims was an 18-year-old young man in the Bronx who was shot in front of his building. Another was a 30-year-old woman who was shot in Brooklyn when she was shot in the stomach on her birthday. Two men were shot in Brooklyn at Red Hook Houses. A 23-year-old man in that shooting was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Just four months into 2021, reports indicate that crime is down 11% compared to this time last year; however, gun arrests were up over 66% in March compared to last March.

Speaking during a televised interview, Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to equate the city’s increase in violence with the court system being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What is truly going to supercharge this is next month when we get the court system back. And then the whole process begins in earnest to take folks who have been arrested on gun charges, prosecute them,” he said. “And if they’re found guilty, they’re going to be out of circulation. That’s going to change everything.”

Earlier this month de Blasio unveiled his “Safe Summer NYC” plan aimed at ending gun violence and bringing the city back from the COVID-19 crisis. The plan focuses on “the community, cops, and courts and justice system” with components: increased investment in communities, strategic police presence in targeted areas, and greater coordination across the justice system.

Some of the community investments include doubling the Cure Violence workforce across 31 sites, Saturday Night Light games at 100 sites citywide, and launching Operation Safe Parks and Gang-Free Zones. The plan also includes increased police presence on the 100 blocks with the highest rates of gun violence in the city.

“Our plan involves precision policing, the application of technology, partnerships with other city agencies, and a focus on youth,” said NYPD Chief Rodney Harrison. “But the core of it is in the neighborhood policing philosophy: cops and community working together to curb violence.”

All this is happening while the U.S. Supreme Court hears its first gun rights case in recent years. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett centers on the right to carry guns in public in the United States. Due to more conservative justices currently on the Supreme Court, the case could be a victory for Second Amendment advocates but a burden to those trying to prevent bloodshed in the streets.

Brooklyn-based anti-violence activist and Executive Director of community organization at Man Up! Inc. A.T. Mitchell said he’s not surprised by the number of shootings. He said more resources are needed for community organizations like his.

Earlier this month, Man Up! Inc. led a shooting response rally at Gershwin Park in East New York after a man was shot there. Man Up! Inc. offers a wealth of services from job training to food drives and community giveaways.

“As soon as the weather breaks, out people break,” Mitchell said. “Our people have gone through a lot over this past year that has given them real reason to lose their mind. The organizations are willing to do our part. We know what we signed up for. But we have to be prepared prior to the summer months so we’re more in a confident position.”

Mitchell added that to prepare for the summer Man Up! Inc. is ramping up its workforce and appealing to community residents to be more involved in anti-violence efforts.

“We’re better preparing our men and women who are willing to sign up and go out there to fight this fight on the frontline,” he said. “We want to make sure that they have everything they possibly need to be successful.”

Queens peace activist Erica Ford, CEO of LIFE Camp, Inc., said that stresses from the COVID-19 pandemic are one of the factors fueling the violence and there are few outlets connecting people to help.

“The unfortunate thing for Black lives is a lack of urgency,” Ford said. “In order for us to resolve the question of violence and death we’ve got to remove politics. We’ve got to help people get the resources they need to do the work they need to do to heal, change mindsets and transform communities.”

LIFE Camp, Inc. has been hosting weekly conference calls for its Fund Peace advocacy aimed at accessing financial assistance from the American Rescue Plan to reduce gun violence.

Increased crime is also becoming an issue on subways. Ridership on the subway system continues to rise as more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and the weather gets warmer. One of the latest incidents includes a man being found stabbed to death last Friday on a subway platform in Queens.

MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye said that a recent survey of riders reveals that safety is now the No. 1 concern on public transit and that more police presence and mental health services are needed.

“While ridership has come back, we’ve got a long way to go and one of the key things in bringing those customers back is going to be able to convince them that the system is safe and secure from crime and harassment, and that we’ve got to make sure that that is their perception,” Foye said. “Additional police resources and mental health resources will play a significant role in that.”