Justin Wallace was just two days shy of his 11th birthday when was fatally shot in his Far Rockaway, Queens home. His family is now planning for his funeral.
Wallace is the latest casualty in the city’s spike in violent crime. The shooting occurred the night of June 5 when a gunman fired more than six rounds into the home hitting Wallace in the stomach. Wallace was taken to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital where he died.
His older cousin, 29-year-old Kyle Forrester, was also shot in the shoulder during the incident and is expected to survive. Wallace’s father reportedly said the shooting may have been over a dispute about a parking space involving Forrester.
On Tuesday, Jovan Young, 29, turned himself into police and was arrested and charged with murder, attempted murder, assault and criminal possession of a weapon. Earlier in the day, the NYPD released surveillance video of the shooting, which shows Young firing into the home.
Rosalyn Mason, director of Far Rockaway anti-violence organization Rock Safe Streets, said she spoke with Wallace’s mother to offer condolences and support.
“She’s just in shock,” Mason said. “When you think about it, your home is your safe haven. She came into the living room and saw her son in a pool of blood. I can’t imagine how horrific that was for her at that moment just seeing that.”
Rock Safe Streets is a program with children and families services organization Sheltering Arms. On Wednesday, Rock Safe Streets held a shooting response community gathering to demand an end to the violence.
Like some areas of the city seeing high crime, Far Rockaway is isolated and lacking jobs, access to healthy food and other necessities, making it a hotbed for violence.
“When you have neighborhoods that are impoverished and neighborhoods that have been neglected, their infrastructure has been neglected, their schools have been neglected, they don’t have adequate jobs, they don’t have all of the resources,” explained Rock Safe Streets founding director Amy Wilkerson. “These are communities that are victims of systemic issues that we have in our city.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio met with Wallace’s family and called the shooting “horrible.” He said the suspect is a “cowardly” person for firing randomly into a home.
During his daily press briefing on Tuesday, de Blasio announced a partnership between the NYPD and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to get guns off the street. The partnership is the first of its kind between a local police department and the ATF.
“We’re going to have ATF agents directly embedded in the NYPD, working together to find guns and quickly act on the information that they find to stop the flow of guns,” de Blasio said. “It takes information, it takes partnership. It takes the ability to quickly act, that can only happen when the federal government and the NYPD are working, literally, side-by-side here in New York City.”
So far in 2021, shootings are up by nearly 70% and gun arrests are up by 28% from 2020. In a statement, the NYPD said the legal system needs to thoroughly punish violent suspects.
“The NYPD has made record numbers of gun arrests this year and we continue to focus with precision policing on precincts with disproportionate gun violence,” a department spokesperson said. “The key to having an effect is for prosecutors and courts to ensure that those arrested with guns see real consequences.”
Assemblymember Kenny Burgos (D-85, Bronx), who chairs the state subcommittee on reentry for parolees, said on Monday that he believes curing the gun violence problem “at the root” means addressing services for parolees, poverty, housing insecurity, and a lack of mental health treatment in the community.
“My focus is on creating a system that focuses on rehabilitation and not punishment,” said Burgos. “When we change our system to not put a scarlet letter on individuals released back into society, we can help them on the path.”
Assemblymember Maritza Davila (D-53, Brooklyn) said that on the state level they are introducing Bill A8022. The bill states that more comprehensive services will be provided for formerly incarcerated persons after their discharge or release so they can integrate back into the community.
June is Gun Violence Awareness Month and A. T. Mitchell, founder and executive director of Brooklyn anti-violence organization Man Up! Inc., agrees that poverty is the root cause of the violence that’s happening. Combining that with illegal guns getting into neighborhoods has created a recipe for trouble.
“The mindset of individuals who lose regard for youth and elders and innocent people out there is because they feel that they have nothing else to live for,” said Mitchell. “We also need to focus our attention on the influx of these illegal guns making their way into our neighborhoods. Guns are not manufactured in Far Rockaway, Queens, East New York, Brooklyn, in Central Harlem, the South Bronx or Staten Island. Guns are manufactured outside of New York City and they make their way into the urban centers through the underground iron pipeline. That’s where we need to cut off the supply.”
The Citizens Crime Commission of New York City is calling for a major overhaul of policing. The organization released the policy plan “From Police Forces to Police Services: A New Framework for Policing in the U.S,” which has a six-point plan to restore trust and legitimacy while increasing transparency and improving public safety at police departments.
Citizens Crime Commission president Richard Aborn said in an interview that the policy includes decreasing implicit and racial bias, recruitment and psychological screening for officers, and using Compstat to incentivize best practices. Aborn says he also wants to see improvements in how the legal system handles gun cases.
“I’m much more interested in what we call ‘certainty and speed’ than I am in harshness,” he said. “I’d love to see the courts carve out cases that involve an illegal gun and accelerate them through the court system without diminishing any rights. Then we begin sending messages that while we are going to remain very focused on reforming the system, we are also going to remain very focused on violent crime.”