From Buffalo to Brownsville, to Bed-Stuy to Brick City, gun shot wounds penetrate flesh and shatter families the same way.
New York is still reeling from a recent spate of shootings: the massacre of 10 people in Buffalo, the fatal shooting of 11-year old Kyhara Tay in the Bronx, the gunshot killing of 18-year-old Adriana Graham in Crown Heights, and the Q train killing of subway rider Daniel Enriquez.
On Tuesday, May 24th, 2022, Salvador Ramos, 18, shot and killed 19 students and two teachers in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. He reportedly also shot his grandmother, and was himself shot by police at the school. On May 15th, 2022, David Chou was arrested for killing one, and injuring 5 at California’s Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian church.
“Next month is Gun Violence Awareness month; we need to aggressively address crime that is affecting us all,” said Andre Thomas Mitchell, founder and CEO of Man Up, Inc., the community advocacy organization founded in 2014 after the shooting death of Daesean Hill, 8, who was killed when two rival groups opened fire and hit the boy as he was going home from school.
“Our neighborhoods have been flooded with weapons, and in the same way we are having a heavy-handed response to the result of that—we want heavy-handed resources. We want to be balanced,” said Mitchell. The leader in the city’s Crisis Management System stated, “We have a peace plan. We need to engage the young people who are involved in the lifestyle to be instead preoccupied with employment and skill-building.
“Let’s rescue as many as we can. We want this to be a summer of peace. I’m optimistic. We want to turn them away from the decision to commit crimes by giving them the option of job training and job placement, and looking for alternatives to occupy their time. We are going after and targeting those communities and populations seen most likely to commit crimes.”
Five months into Mayor Eric Adams’ administration, the self-titled ‘Get Stuff Done’ city leader and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell have held almost weekly press conferences addressing the deadly rising crime rate.
Adams had made his retirement as police captain after 22 years with the NYPD a cornerstone of his campaign when he was running for mayor. Fighting crime was going to be one of his main focuses. His superpower if you will.
“We are failing to have an intervention and a prevention plan for public safety, and what that looks like for me is intervention is right now,” Adams told the Amsterdam News then. “We have to go after gang violence. We have to look at our communications that I share with the president, about having a tri-level implementation of a plan—on the federal level, state level, city level—with information sharing. Having the ATF provide us with the information we need to go after those illegal gun dealers that are really having guns coming to the northern state. And then we must also have an intervention plan of dealing with the violence with precision policing and targeting those dangerous gangs, getting them out of gangs, but also going after those who refuse to get out of gangs and are wreaking havoc and violence in our city.”
With police and community relations traditionally being testy in the Black community, Mitchell stated this week, “Mayor Eric Adams has introduced precision policing with his teams going out into high crime areas. We need to stop the violence of course. But, we want precision resources. I believe in a comprehensive holistic approach. It should not be one versus the other in addressing gun violence. Our community is hurting. We have to stop the bloodshed.”
The same trauma visited upstate New York this month.
On Saturday, May 14, 2022, 18-year-old self-proclaimed white supremacist Payton Gendron drove over three hours from Conklin, New York, to commit mass murder at Tops Friendly supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
The funerals for the victims began last week and are scheduled to continue for the next few days.
“My heart goes out to family, the Black community of Buffalo.This is nothing more than a reminder of the country we are in. It is not surprising,” said Mitchell. “We knew that white supremacy existed a long time before this white boy murdered those 10 people in Buffalo. We do this whole shocked and surprised, and grief-stricken emotion. But it is nothing new to me. This is the nation we are in.” Mitchell refuses to buy into the notion that Gendron was an innocent youth radicalized by falling into an internet rabbit hole.
“Some people think he got these ideas from the internet. They want us to believe that he wasn’t fed these beliefs by his parents. I disagree. Racism is a learned behavior. Children are taught to be racist. He was carrying out the drivel he was taught. Yes, maybe he saw some things on social media, but I think it was already in his blood. He did what he was taught to do. That behavior rose in his head and led to the unfortunate side effects that the Black community is now going through again.
“The Black family continue to be victims of gunfire.”
As for the young men hugging up the corner in the inner city this is yet another teachable moment, said Mitchell, a father of six, and well known and respected in the East New York community, and citywide. “This is a good opportunity to talk to them about racism in this country, and violence in this state, and how it affects what goes on in our community, and how it can attract those who are not educated into a negative lifestyle.”
Mitchell spoke to the paper as he made his way to Chicago, where Operation Ceasefire and Violence Interrupters have worked overtime to try and curb the public health crisis which has been the shooting epidemic over the years.
“Violence is a disease,” said Mitchell. “Neither guns nor bullets discriminate. When you let a gun off in our neighborhood or in Buffalo—there is the same effect. It is gun violence.
“It was a mass shooting and it was a massacre. The same in our streets. It is a massacre. Perhaps not identical because the perpetrator is white and not our demographic. But, the weaponry produces the same effect. The families are in the same pain. The community experiences the same trauma. The details may be different, but the act still is the same.”
The community is still talking about the white supremacist live-streaming the murder of 10 Black people; some feel that police did not approach him like an armed-and-dangerous murderer. Even some of the youth who are the target of police suspicion in the high crime areas voiced rage.
The corner boys have a right to be upset, but Mitchell determined, “I would ask Rey Rey what is the difference? How do we resolve that paradigm or that narrative? How do we end the cycle of violence with these white boys? I would ask them how do they feel when a baby is shot and killed? Or 8-year-old Daesean Hill, whose gang crossfire shooting death in 2014 inspired the creation of our community organization? Or how do they feel about the murder of 11-year-old Kyhara Tay, whose shooting was by a 15- and 18-year-old who were aiming at a 13-year-old? It was a cold-blooded killing.”
With a fatal shooting on the Q train this weekend, and several more Buffalo mass shooting death funerals this week there’s going to be more slow-singing, flower-bringing and vigils. There are those talking about the ease with which Gendron rolled up into the predominantly Black neighborhood and casually murdered 10 Black people, injuring three more.
“Retaliation still does not resolve the issue, all that is doing is making things worse,” said Mitchell. “What we have to do from Buffalo to Brownsville to the Bronx is we look at the blueprint. It has been the same. Let’s keep it a buck. Buffalo is a rundown city. There are the same conditions in places like Brownsville and the Bronx. There is so much poverty in the city. There is not the unity and strength of a tightly-knitted community that would deter a white boy from traveling as much as 200 miles to wreak that kind of havoc. It is because we didn’t have our stuff together. If we put our neighbors back in our hoods to create NEIGHBORHOODS again—where men are looking out for women and children, very few can come through and think about doing what Gendron did with ease. We need to get our heads together to make sure that we come together and protect our community.”
Mitchell brought up the tragic story of Prince Joshua Avitto, the 6-year-old boy who was stabbed 11 times in a public housing elevator by a homeless man.
“We got caught off-guard. That baby was lost to us because the community got caught slipping. We have to take some responsibility. If you go to Howard Beach, or Chinatown, or Little Italy, or Williamsburg and you thinking you’re going out to commit any type of crime they would say, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ Or, ‘Are you lost and do you need directions?’
“Those communities are that much on guard. We need to have that type of understanding. We need to have a rebirth of community-driven solutions. I always say that the community is the answer.”