2007-01-12 / Editorial/Opinion

From The Editor's Desk

Speaking Out On The Proliferation Of Guns
Commentary By Howard Schwach

This was what passes for a good week in Rockaway. There were only three "shots fired" calls on the peninsula and nobody, at least by an official count, was hit.

It was a week that City Councilman James Sanders once again put his foot in his mouth, this time in an interview not with The Wave, but with Corey Kilgannon of the New York Times.

The Times article, entitled, "In Faded Beach Community Seeking Rebirth, Projects and Luxury Homes Meet," gave a half-page to the question of whether the "luxury" homes of Arverne By The Sea could coexist with the Hammel Houses and its nearly nightly gunplay.

Sanders told Kilgannon that the reaction on the part of the developers who felt relief because so far the gun violence has not affected sales in the massive development is, "exactly what is wrong here in Rockaway."

"[They are] trying to build a self-contained city, while ignoring the surrounding community and its ills. We're going to be stuck with a tale of two cities," Sanders said. "They're creating the conditions for a perfect storm of racial discontent and possibly more violence."

"This situation cannot be dealt with by simply increasing security and police and arresting and imprisoning more young people," Sanders added.

First of all, as Sanders well knows, the homicides and shooting incidents do not stem from "racial discontent." ALL of the recent murders have been black on black crime. If Sanders thinks that the shootings are due to young black men disaffected by what they believe to be a racist Arverne By The Sea complex, he should open his eyes and take a look at the makeup of the people who already live in Arverne By The Sea. In fact, the homeowner's association president is black.

The Arverne By The Sea development is the keystone of Rockaway's revitalization and Sanders speaks of it as a pariah that might well cause racial strife on the peninsula.

Racial strife is not our problem. Black on black crime is the problem and Sanders consistently refuses to note that.

In fairness, Sanders will be hosting a march on Monday, January 15, at 2 p.m. to address the three recent murders in Rockaway, in which all of the victims were black and in which all of the suspects are black as well. Where, James, I have to ask, is the racial strife in that?

In fact, Sanders recently told Warren Woodbury, a local reporter for the Daily New, that the shootings were part of a battle between two city housing projects, Ocean Bay Houses and Hammel Houses.

"I suspect we're going to see a spike," he told Woodbury of the tensions between young black men in the two complexes, only a mile or so apart. "This is nothing short of a gang war that needs to be worked on."

Where then, does the racial problem that Sanders constantly talks about when addressing Arverne By The Sea, come from?

Perhaps, it's all in his mind and in his zeal to do what he thinks that his constituency wants him to do.

Secondly, the basic and immediate solution to the gun problem is increasing police pressure on the city housing complexes in Rockaway, arresting anybody with a gun and putting them away for the mandatory three years.

Witness what happened on Grand Avenue in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn.

Rocco Parascandola recently wrote about the drug problem on that street in Newsday.

Seems that the mostly-minority residents of Grand Avenue between Gates and Putnam Avenues got fed up with the large amount of drug dealers who made their sales on that block. They asked the local precinct captain for some help and they got it.

The NYPD shut down the block, with a police car stationed permanently at each end.

Residents had to show identification that they lived on the block. Others were turned away unless they were vetted by a resident.

The residents and the cops quickly got to know each other and identification was seldom needed after the first week.

After a few weeks, the drug dealers got the message and moved elsewhere. When asked by reporters if they were worried about the police presence, if they thought their rights were being taken away because they had to produce identification to get to their homes, the residents laughed. They were the happiest people in the city now that the drug dealers were gone and their kids could use the street again.

A police spokesperson called the two-month action, "an effective and successful approach in getting rid of the drugs and violence that had plagued the block."

I agree, even though I am sure that Sanders would call that "aggressive policing" and demand that the police get off the block.

I am just as sure that the residents of the Hammel Houses and the other city housing projects would welcome the police if it meant freeing them from the fear they now experience.

Residents have told me that they are afraid to allow their kids to play outside in the nice weather. They are afraid to even allow their children to look out the window for fear that a random shot meant for somebody else will end their young life.

That is no way to live and, despite what Sanders says, aggressive policing can solve the problem.

Black columnist Errol Louis writes for the Daily News.

In his column last Sunday, Louis said that we have to "refute the four Big Lies" being aimed at our young people by the "cultural poison" that spews from radios, televisions and movies: Life is cheap; greed is good; sex is recreation without consequences and the way to succeed in the world is by force and fraud.

That is the message that Sanders should be spreading, not the message that Arverne By The Sea is a racial problem rather than a development that may well define whether Rockaway exists as a viable community in the next decade or so.

Louis quoted in his column from another columnist - DeWayne Wickham of USA Today.

"Most of this nation's black murder victims are killed by other blacks," he wrote. "And, despite this chilling fact, nowhere have tens of thousands of people taken to the streets recently to protest this carnage. Not in New York, or Baltimore, or Atlanta, or Detroit, or Chicag, nowhere."

"Wickham is right," Louis says. "A march that shuts down Empire Boulevard or Eastern Parkway - or Wall Street - would show the world that some of us, at least, will not stand idly by while our children get gunned down one by one."

Unfortunately, that's just what Sanders and other black Rockaway leaders are doing.

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