Community Leaders Respond To Homicides, Shootings
In response to the recent wave of homicides and shooting incidents that has hit the Rockaways in recent weeks, residents and local politicians have come together to develop strategies to stem the tide of violence.
Among those who are stepping up to the plate are Councilman James Sanders Jr. and Liz Bishop-Goldsmith, the president and founder of Mothers Against Guns (MAG).
Last Friday, Sanders called together people from several organizations to give his analysis of what has been going on and to explain his plan called “Stop The Bleeding, Start The Breathing, Heal The Wounds.”
“We have been brought together by three senseless killings,” said Sanders at the December 22 press conference held at Peninsula Hospital Center, which followed his meeting with city agencies and local organizations. “It is nothing short of a gang war that needs to be worked on,” he said, adding that more incidents were almost sure to come.
Sanders was referring to the killings of Christopher Glenn, 16, who was fatally shot outside 51-15 Almeda Avenue on November 27; Cedric Smalls, 18, who was killed on December 15 in front of 81-03 Beach Channel Drive, at the Hammel Houses complex; and Laton Spurgeon, 28, who was slain on December 19 outside his brother’s home on Fernside Place.
Sanders called the Rockaways “a perfect storm for trouble.”
He cites the area as having the second highest unemployment rate in Queens, enormous numbers of parolees without the proper resources to pull themselves up, too many gangs, guns and drugs as well as a struggling education system as some of the things troubling Rockaway.
The councilman said he wants the city to increase the resources to help solve the problem.
“We need vocational schools…resources to put three street workers on the ground here to address problems,” continued Sanders, who said putting social workers into the communities makes sense.
“Street workers need to make peace with warring factions in this and that development,” said Sanders, who also explained that his plan would include helping to get jobs for youth as well as expunging police records.
Mark Claxton represented the group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement.
“As a community we continue to deal with issues that impact us,” Claxton said. “We recognize there are internal issues that need to be addressed. This forum recognizes the need for change... the need to reach out to youth to end the violence.”
Lance Feurtado, of the King of Kings Foundation and Men United for a Better New York City and for the Reentry of Ex-Offenders, put some of the blame on himself for the conditions on the street today.
“I was part of the demise and destruction of Rockaway and other places,” Feurtado said. “We were the face of the streets. We’re losing youth at an alarming rate, and we need to close the door we once opened.”
Sanders did concede that every young person approached wouldn’t be convinced to change their ways.
“The majority want a better way,” Sanders said. “I agree there are those who will not be reached, then it has to be left to the criminal justice system.”
While Sanders says the NYPD is receptive to his plan, he also said all the responsibility should not fall on the police.
“For too long we have required police to solve every social problem,” explained the councilman. “We have steadily called on police to resolve issues that are not theirs to resolve...we put forward the idea of street workers [who would work] with street youth and police.”
Some of the other representatives at the meeting were Ed Williams, president of the local NAACP chapter, resident Isaac Parsee of the Commission on Human Rights, and Bishop-Goldsmith of MAG.
“There are so many issues we need to address if we are to take back the community,” Bishop-Goldsmith said. “As a mother, grandmother, wherever gun violence is, we must cease fire and start the healing.”
Such issues include shelter, homelessness, poverty and proper medical care. “People will do anything to survive, it’s the human instinct,” she told The Wave this week.
Bishop-Goldsmith and MAG will host a meeting on Saturday, December 30 at the Holiness Evangelical Church, 11-43 Beach Channel Drive in Far Rockaway at 11 a.m. that she hopes will lead to “better understanding and mutual respect” among those involved.
Bishop-Goldsmith, whose godson was killed by gun violence in 1994, hopes to see people from all the housing complexes, as well as the young people of the area at Saturday’s meeting.
“It’s the young people who I really want to speak to,” she said. “I want to tell them it’s time to stop all the nonsense.
“If I could get the gangs together, I’d love to sit down with them.” Bishop-Goldsmith also added that she spoke with the grandmother of Laton Spurgeon. “She just wants all the [violence] to stop,” said Bishop-Goldsmith.
On Martin Luther King Jr. day, January 15, Sanders will lead a march to bring the problem to the forefront.
“We will march from one end of Rockaway to the other, stopping at every housing development to engage with young people that there is a way out,” said Sanders. “I call on people of good will to join us. Let’s honor the memory of Martin Luther King doing what he certainly would do.”
Following the march, Sanders said he would sit down with community members to decide a course of action to try to end the violence.