2008-06-06 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

An All-Out Anti-Gun Push In Brooklyn And Harlem: Why Not A Similar Program For Far Rockaway?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Far Rockaway is not alone in facing the problems of gun violence, black on black crime and gangs.

The hail of bullets that flew in Harlem put a glaring spotlight on the problem.

But there have been similar gun incidents in Jackson Heights, Prospect Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Young black people, many of them innocent bystanders, have been shot and killed. In each of the instances, young black people pulled the triggers as well.

Shootings have jumped 12.3 percent citywide compared to the same time period last year, and the number of people shot and killed has jumped 10.4 percent over the same period.

And, summer is not yet upon us. During the summer months, when it is hot, teens have little to do but sit outside and get into trouble, and as the days last much longer, the crime rate traditionally rises.

This may well be the proverbial long, hot summer in Rockaway, as it will be in many minority neighborhoods.

Last year, an organization called New Yorkers Against Gun Violence targeted what it considered the worst areas of gun violence in the city, including Crown Heights, East Harlem and the South Bronx, for youth programs and other initiatives to fight the rise in shootings in those neighborhoods.

Once again, Rockaway did not make the cut.

In the wake of the Harlem shootings, a group of state legislators held an "emergency citywide summit."

At the meeting, were State Senator Malcolm Smith, who represents Rockaway, Congressman Gregory Meeks, and many other citywide leaders, including Governor David Paterson.

The press release issued after the emergency summit said that it followed "a similar meeting at the Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway." It named all the people who were at the Rockaway meeting and then added that they constructed a plan that included "securing public funds to put up video surveillance cameras, opening up a shuttered community center and putting additional police manpower on the street."

The call for increased police manpower and vertical patrols, where cops go up and down the staircases in public housing buildings, came in the wake of a spate of shootings that left two innocent teens dead and five other men with gunshot wounds.

Curiously enough, that call came on the heels of a "Tri-lateral Commission," that called for a truncation of police activity in minority communities, especially undercover police activity.

Who ran that commission?

Meeks and Smith.

Is that called "talking out of both sides of your mouth?"

The New Yorkers Against Gun Violence program includes bringing teens and police together for a dialogue about the community.

Turns out that many of the black teens did not trust the cops very much.

Last week, I pointed out in this space that many of the teens in Rockaway do not trust the police. I did not need a crystal ball or a panel discussion to know that fact.

And, last week, I pointed out the reason that many black youth do not trust the police.

It's because their black leadership - their role models - tell them not to trust the police or the court system.

Take, for an example, the Sean Bell case.

I know that I wrote about this last week, but this is a sort of continuation column, a part II, if you will, and it bears repeating, especially if you skipped last week's column.

Sean Bell was shot and killed last year in a hail or bullets fired by undercover cops who told the district attorney that they believed the four men in the car had a gun and that their lives were in danger.

If you want the rest of the story, go to our website and type "Sean Bell" into the search engine. That will provide more than you probably will need to know.

Under political pressure, the cops were indicted and tried in a bench trial.

They were found not guilty of any criminal behavior, although they are now under departmental charges for violating the regulations set forth in the NYPD's Patrol Guide.

Meeks, and Smith along with others in the black leadership quickly decided that the court was wrong, that it needed to be told that it was wrong through a plan that would "take back the city" and "bring the city to a standstill."

Those same politicians riled against the police department, joining with the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in calling the police "racist" and calling for a stop to the police ability to stop and frisk those they believed were carrying illegal weapons.

The local chapter of the NAACP, led by Ed Williams, held a march, not to stop the black on black crime and gun violence in the community, but to put a stop to the "disrespect of our black teens by police."

The most recent summit on the gun violence, held in Harlem, does not call for video cameras and the reopening of a community center, although those might put a band aid on the problem without curing the illness.

The Harlem plan calls for street intervention to stop the violence, including "community support for the police and other law enforcement officials."

You didn't hear that from the Rockaway meeting, nor did you hear that from the Tri-Lateral Commission.

From those groups you hear a lot of disdain for and distrust of the police and other law enforcement officials.

The Harlem plan also calls for a "real-world gang awareness and for prevention initiatives against gangs," something that was not even discussed in any meaningful way by the Rockaway group.

Governor Paterson said after the Harlem meeting, "Gun violence is one of the most serious issues facing our city and state. Innocent lives, too often children, are ended because of trivial disputes and carelessness. I applaud Senator Smith for bringing together some of the leaders in the fight to get guns off the street and out of the hands of criminals."

We have been pushing Smith, Meeks, and Williams for more than three years to stop posturing and actually to do something about gun violence.

On Monday morning, just days after last Week's paper hit the stands, a black Far Rockaway resident, who asked not to be identified because he is afraid of being labeled and ridiculed, told me that 70 percent of the minority residents he spoke with over the weekend agree with my contention that the black leadership is an abject failure, although not with my beliefs about the Sean Bell case. He said that people are fed up with the do-nothing leadership in their community.

City Councilman James Sanders, Jr., to his credit, has decided to put his personal safety on the line. He told me on Monday that he is funding a 'real tenant patrol," and that he would be the first volunteer.

"I have been fighting against gun violence since 1984, I have been fighting the mayor for money to address this problem since I came to the Council," Sanders said. "Now, I'm going to take the next step and put my body on the line. We'll find the times that are the worst and we'll go patrol the {Redfern Houses] complex."

The Governor is right about the importance of the problem, but he is pointing in the wrong direction when he counts Smith and other black leaders as being the progenitors of the solution.

Things may change, however. Even Al Sharpton has awoken to the fact that black on black crime and gun violence may be an issue he can thrive on.

On Tuesday, Sharpton announced that he is calling for a high-profile community summit in Harlem to address the black on black violence that has rocked the community.

After all, if it happens in Harlem, it really happens.

If it happens in Rockaway, forget about it, because it doesn't count.

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