2008-05-30 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Abject Failure Of Far Rockaway's Black Leadership
Commentary By Howard Schwach

If the recent spate of shootings and homicides in Far Rockaway prove anything, they prove the abject failure of the black leadership.

It is an honor role of shame. City Councilman James Sanders, Jr. State Senator Malcolm Smith. Assemblywoman Michelle Titus. Congressman Gregory Meeks.

NAACP President Ed Williams.

Young black people die and they prevaricate and play politics.

They promise the moon. They hold press conferences. They hold vigils. They hold marches. They promise programs.

They do nothing to stem the tide of black on black crime and gang activity that infests the community and drives the good people to send their children elsewhere and then to follow their youth.

Witness the recent shooting incidents that led to the death of two young people, both of them most-likely innocent victims who got caught in the crossfire of a war that has been going on so long, nobody remembers who started it or why.

Look at the timeline.

Last Saturday night, May 17, at about 11:12 p.m. Brandon Bethea, 15, was dancing with friends in front of a building in the Redfern Houses when shots rang out. The group of teens scattered, but Bethea fell to the ground, mortally wounded with a gunshot to her head.

A few hours later, early on Sunday morning, six Nassau County residents, who police say were members of the violent street gang, MS 13, fired several shots from an SUV on the corner of Beach 21 Street and Mott Avenue, injuring five local men.

Then, at 2:15 p.m. on Monday afternoon,

a 16-year-old former Rockaway resident, Tyrese Johnson, who was visiting

his parents from North Carolina, was shot once in the head in what police are terming a "gang-like execution killing."

Both Bethea and Johnson had been brought up in Rockaway. Bethea's parents moved to Jamaica to get away from Far Rockaway. She was back for a party that was thrown by her boyfriend.

Johnson's parents had sent him to North Carolina last year to live with an aunt to get him away from the violence. He was spending a month visiting his parents when he was killed.

The last time we had a spate of killings such as these was December of 2006 - not so long ago. At that time, all of the black leadership held vigils and marches, and press conferences decrying the gun violence and promising to do something about it.

"While Titus never spoke out in any way about the growing problem, the others did.

In one way or another, they all blamed the mayor and the larger community for the problem. It was the same old litany.

There are no jobs in Rockaway.

There are no activities for young people in Rockaway.

The schools in Rockaway are substandard.

The housing in Rockaway is substandard and segregated.

The police disrespect black youth.

I have heard it all before, and the fact that most of those things are true does not mean that black kids should then get a pass when they pick up a gun to settle a petty grievance or to solidify a spot in the drug trade.

Those who do so have to be told that they are wrong. But the black leadership has pointed out very clearly that it is perfectly all right to disrespect both cops and the criminal justice system.

Those lessons came in the Sean Bell case.

Three undercover cops shot and killed Bell in a hail of bullets. It was a tragic accident brought on by cops who were perhaps too quick on the trigger and friends who perhaps were too thuggish.

The cops were arrested, indicted and tried.

Judge Arthur Cooperman found them not guilty, the only verdict he could have made based on the evidence presented in court.

Yet Meeks, Smith, Sanders and Williams railed against the verdict, saying that the verdict was wrong and that black people can't get a fair trial in the justice system and must take justice in their own hands through protest and "shutting down the city."

At the same time Smith complained about the police department and called for truncating the program that sends undercover cops into Rockaway neighborhoods to take guns and drugs off the street, he called for a stronger police presence in Redfern to rid the public housing project of its "bad apples."

How does he reconcile the two calls - one for fewer undercover officers and fewer stop and frisks and the other for an increased police presence? It is the undercovers who take the guns and drugs off the street, not uniformed officers.

A call for a reduced undercover force will mean more drugs in the projects and an increase in gun violence.

What does the call for police to stop doing their jobs say to young black men, many of whom already have dropped out of the mainstream of Rockaway life?

One of the witnesses at the Bell Trial, Troy Benefield, said it best.

He kept calling one of the black detectives who was on trial, "boy."

When the defense council asked him why he did that, he said, "I don't give respect to none of them."

That is the mantra provided by our black leadership.

Don't trust the cops. Don't respect them.

Don't trust the criminal justice system. It works against the black community.

That is the lesson our black leaders are giving to our black youth.

Last year, in the midst of all the shootings and murders, the NAACP called for a march.

Was the march to decry black on black crime? Was it to decry the killings of so many young, black people?

No, the march was called to decry the way police in the 101 Precinct were "disrespecting" young black people.

James Sanders held a march against black on black crime at that time. He demanded money to address the problem.

The city promised him the money and then reneged on its promise.

Money, however, is not the answer.

Any program to do away with black on black crime and gun violence has to have many components.

First of all, guns have to be taken off the streets and that means more police and more gun stops, something that the black leadership considers an anathema.

In fact, Meeks, Smith and Sanders have all called for a curtailment of undercover activity in the wake of the Bell case. That would be the worst thing that could happen for the good people of Far Rockaway.

Secondly, there has to be a comprehensive federal gun control law so that guns from other states such as Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania can no longer flood our streets.

Third, there has to be an educational program run by our black leadership and staffed by young, black professionals to show that there is another way, that violence and gangs are not the long-term answer.

Fourth, there has to be a recreation program, something for young people to do on this peninsula. Where is our Y?

I'll expand on this more in next week's column.

Until then, gird yourself for more gun violence, more killings. If things remain the way they are, it's going to be a long, hot summer.

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