Just two weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared gun violence a disaster emergency, nine people were reportedly shot, including two fatally, overnight between Sunday into Monday. Officials say the toxic mixture of gang rivalry retaliations coupled with easy access to guns is ending with deadly results.
This week by Wednesday press time police say there were 17 shootings, 20 victims, with 4 fatalities.
The Amsterdam News asked Democratic mayoral candidate Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams if the city is poised to slump back into an undesirable past.
Bronx and Brooklyn are hotspots, but Manhattan and Queens are also in the running. “There are clear indicators that there are communities dealing with the real uptick in violence, and if we don’t get control of that we can find ourselves going through those days when we were dealing with very serious violence, with 2,000 homicides a year, and 98,000 robberies, etc.,” the former police captain said.
“As I move around the city, particularly in economically challenged communities, they are clear that they are tired of the gun violence, and they are tired of the gang violence. And that includes the common respect for our neighbors. And that includes the ATVs riding up and down the sidewalks almost hitting children.”
“Dope fiends on the corners, drug dealers posting up, homeless dudes aggressively asking for money and food every day, the shooters out here acting reckless and ridiculous, selfish bikers riding on the sidewalk, and the criminal-minded running rampant,” said Vaughan Patrick, a Bed Stuy, Brooklyn home-owner who said that he is “tired” of the critical mass of negative issues plaguing the city. Fearing a return to worrisome days of dire ’80s New York City, residents are demanding that electeds, activists, law enforcers, and the affected communities themselves get on the ground and come up with actionable and equitable solutions to the variety of problems seriously impacting the quality of life for so many.
Taking a look around the city, all that is missing is the tell-tale mass graffiti on subway cars; although the hundreds of pandemic-era shuttered storefronts are providing countless urban canvasses for the creative taggers.
In Bed Stuy, Brooklyn on Sunday night rapid loud pops made one elder cower into a doorway, frantically pulling on a beauty salon door handle. It was locked. Others on the street stopped and looked in the direction of the suspected gunfire. The rapid repetition seemed to assure some that it was mid-July fireworks, not errant gunshots. But, folks did not know for sure. These are the times we are in. With broad daylight, crowded street shootings from Times Square to the outer-boroughs an all-too-common occurrence, New Yorkers are on edge.
A 16-year-old boy is among the victims in this week’s violence. The teen was shot in the thigh on Sunday in Brownsville, Brooklyn and reports indicate that he could have been the intended target. He did not cooperate with police when he was questioned.
In Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, police found a 30-year-old man dead while they were responding to a 911 call. The man was found with a gunshot to the back. No arrests have been made.
During a drive-by shooting in Flushing, Queens on Sunday, 25-year-old Aldair Melchor was killed when he was reportedly shot in the head and arm. Police say Melchor was a member of the Always Banging Kings gang. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Adams stated, “I don’t subscribe to the theory that we’re going back to the bad old days, but I believe that if we do not stop the erosion of the basic principles that allow us to live in a diverse city like this, we’re going to hurt the quality of life that we expect, if it’s going back to 2,000 homicides a year—I don’t know that, I know we’re moving in the wrong direction.”
“If they keep adding money to the community organizations, do you think people would be so focused on defunding the police?” asked activist Shanduke McPhatter. The Brooklyn borough president candidate and CEO/founder of Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes Inc. said organizations such as his have a unique perspective.
The AmsNews asked if he thought New York was returning to the bad old crime-ridden days of the ’80s.
“The climate with what has happened over the last year, plus with COVID, with the defund the police, and the issues of our community not being serviced by the elected officials who are in office, this is expected. The climate of the music versus the ’90s, they are pushing nothing drill music: straight murder, death, kill…That’s a drill. ‘I’m just shooting.’ That’s what we’re seeing right now with the drugs. With the opioids, the promotion of artists popping mollys and everything else, and our young men and women are popping these drugs before they pick up a gun and commit a crime. There’s not enough education and services in the community to help them and turn them away from those types of opioids as well as the mindset, because the music is saying this is what they are supposed to do based on this system that they set up. It is deliberate.”
The AmNews reached out to the NYPD for a comment from Commissioner Dermot Shea about the spike in crime in the city. The department referred to statements the commissioner previously released to the media.
“In the past year we’ve had to push back on the City Council asking us to get rid of the database on gangs. We’ve been asked not to stop cars, don’t interview kids when they’re arrested,” Shea said. “At a time when people should be coming to us and saying ‘What do you need? What can be done to help?’ We’re seeing the opposite.”
On Monday during his daily press briefing, Mayor Bill de Blasio said as the city recovers from COVID-19, he wants to make sure public safety is part of that agenda. De Blasio discussed the important work of the city’s violence interrupters and the need to support them.
“Their work is crucial to our vision of Safe Summer NYC,” he said. “This vision begins with these community-based solutions to violence, doubling the Cure Violence workforce this summer, a huge investment in recreation, activities, positive cultural activities for young people, giving them positive options. That whole piece is crucial.”
De Blasio joined Brooklyn Borough President and Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams and Bronx Borough President Democratic candidate Council Member Vanessa Gibson in the Bronx last Saturday at an anti-violence rally. Shooting incidents in the Bronx are up by 78% compared to last year with murders up by 41%.
“It’s easy to get a gun out of New York State and bring it right to the Bronx,” Gibson said during an interview. “The second issue is the mindset and the mentality of young people to pick up a gun in the first place. Why are young people so easily able to engage in violence? It is painful because innocent people and children are dying because of this proliferation of gun violence, it’s really alarming. I’m scared, I know many residents are scared and certainly we need action. The press conferences are great but we need to invest in these communities that have been hit hardest by COVID.”
Bronx Congressman Richie Torres said that gun violence in the city is a “crisis” and the Bronx has been hit the hardest. He is against calls to defund the NYPD but supports a different kind of policing.
“Most Americans don’t want less policing or more policing, but better, more effective, more accountable and transparent policing,” Torres said. “Part of the problem is gun trafficking [and] the flow of guns to NYC. State and local laws will only take us so far because guns move across state lines, so we need gun safety regulation at the national level. Only national, federal regulation can break the flow of guns to NYC.”
David Caba, who serves as senior program director of the organization Bronx Rises Against Gun Violence (B.R.A.G.), applauded Cuomo’s recent decision to declare gun violence a disaster emergency. He said the answer to stopping the violence, especially among young people, is resources for community programs like his.
“In one program alone we have 60 young people enrolled. That’s 60 young people who are not on the corner. They’re not getting pulled into that high risk street life,” Caba said. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of things that we can do on a daily basis that never crossed NYPD because we’re there to stop it from turning into something else.”
Retired police captain Adams recalled that in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park the other day with his son Jordan, that someone was on a park bench injecting themselves with drugs, and then there’s graffiti everywhere “not just on businesses, which is bad, but people are putting graffiti on private homes.”
The community cannot get to a position with the collapse of common decency where anything and everything goes, Adams said. He talked about the recent “assassination” of the 13-year-old Bronx boy and the trilogy of the three teenagers “shooting themselves.” Children and neighbors must be respected, he said. “We do need to say let’s respect ourselves as neighbors.”
“They should defund the police, and give the money to sanitation,” said proud brownstone home owner Vaughan Patrick. “Garbage everywhere means disorganization. It means disorder and breeds not only rats and disease, a silent killer, but it also sets up the environment of neglect in which crime thrives.”
Patrick said that chasing addicts and dealers from his block happens too often. “We have these million dollar homes and still people selling drugs because it is a Brooklyn neighborhood. The users aren’t even from here though. Clean streets and neighborhoods that are taken care of see less crime, and dudes don’t hang on the corner slinging. They know eyes are on them. There are many ways to counter this issue—here is one of them.”
Adams, the former state senator with 22 years as an NYPD police officer, heads the Brooklyn borough and campaigns for mayor at the same time; he said community-inspired solutions are his focus.
“It can only get worse if we don’t acknowledge…and halt where we are. We should not wait until we get to 2,000 homicides a year. I believe that we need to provide resources, and that includes jobs; that includes keeping our community centers open, our schools open to use, our gymnasiums, our pools…all of these spaces that we don’t allow our young people to go for extra curricular activities. Let’s have some real after-school programs, some real job training. People need to be employed, they need resources on every level. Oftentimes young people do mischievous things because they don’t have any outlets.
“I have been sitting down with gang members for the last two and a half years to talk about how do we stop gang violence, gang shootings. Much of the crime now is being generated by gang interaction. We have too many guns in our community. So, there is a holistic approach to the overproliferation of guns that’s coming from the southern states. We need to stop the free-flowing of guns that is coming into our community, so that we don’t have young people picking up a gun committing crimes.”
A cop’s cop who ran on a stern law enforcement platform, Adams said, “But at the same time we need to send a clear message that it’s not acceptable to shoot innocent people. That’s not acceptable and we can’t use the excuse of being poor, being unemployed as a reason for violence.”
To this point the Amsterdam News asked the retired police captain if he would reinstate the notorious Street Crimes Unit should he become mayor after the November 2nd election.
“No,” Adams replied adamantly. “We want an anti-gun unit. Since I know, and I fought against the abuse of street crime, I am one of the best people to tell you to use the anti-gun unit. They will use their video cameras; they don’t turn them off like many plainclothes officers are doing so we can get a full account of all of their encounters. You’ll have the right trained officers in the unit that are not going out there filling a quota stopping and searching everyone. We’re doing Precision Policing identifying the gangs. We know who the gangs are in this city. We know who the shooters are. We know the areas where they participate in. All of this information is here, we need to do Precision Policing to target those entities, individuals and groups to deal with the violence.
“We’re not going to those days where Street Crimes was being heavy handed and abusive, targeting communities based on color and crime data. We’re going to do a different version of the anti-gun unit, so we can go after the guns.”
Stating that the numerous NYC violence prevention community-based organizations have been proven successful over the years for interrupting inner city violence and bringing down gun crimes, McPhatter said they have a blueprint which obviously works and should be supported.
As for the police, he said, “Let them do their job, and we’ll do ours.”
He added, “The City Council just approved adding more money to the police budget, so you can’t just focus on defunding the police, you have to focus on funding peace. We have to be able to adjust as we see the changes we are fighting for are not happening. They don’t have the right people funded to do the work in the community.”
McPhatter continued, “We have to focus on funding the community and budget justice, and give money to our community for more resources. We shouldn’t have to keep fighting every year for more funding.”
A grassroots activist through and through, McPhatter concluded, “We need people who are passionate about the issues, and not just passionate about their pockets, position, or the power they are trying to receive.
“As long as you play politics you are not going to see the shifts and change in our community.”