2008-08-01 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words, But The Gun Violence Continues Unabated
Commentary By Howard Schwach

One of the toughest decisions a newspaper editor has to make each week is what to put on the front page.

Generally speaking, whatever goes on the page seems to anger somebody and often draws criticism.

One real estate official, for example, came to the office to find out why we run stories about murder and mayhem on the front page.

"I don't sell many homes when you print that there was a murder in the community in the paper."

I get that one a lot, particularly from people who come from communities where the local paper serves as a cheerleader that shies away from hard news. "The Pointer," in Breezy Point is a perfect example of a cheerleader right here in Rockaway.

My answer to those who make that complaint is that my job is not to sell homes, but to inform the communities as to what has happened the past week and might well happen in the near future.

That is what a newspaper does, from the New York Times to The Wave.

Even the way the news is handled gets criticism. For example, we recently ran a photograph of a teenager who was shot on a Far Rockaway street, a sheet covering all but the top of his head and one of his hands.

It was a graphic photo showing the death of a young man who, by all reports, was a good kid headed for college and a bright future.

The photo I chose to use was not the most graphic photo I had, but it was close.

And, I made the decision to use it because I believe that there have been too many murders in the Far Rockaway community and it was time to make it all real.

Some kids look at the violence as if it were a video game, movie or television show. Turn off the game, and everything will be fine. The dead guy will be up and walking in no time.

It doesn't work that way in real life, and that's what I wanted to show.

His mother called to complain about graphically showing her son dead on the street.

I explained why I had done it, and she agreed that there has been too much violence and that she understood. She had originally asked for an apology in print, and I told her that I would apologize to her personally for the pain that the photo caused her, but not professionally, for using it in the paper. She said that she would accept that and we hung up on good terms.

The fact is, everybody has to understand that there has been too much gun violence and that something needs to be done.

The grandiose plans with snappy acronym names aren't going to do it.

The politicians who blame society for the problem and believe that the shooters are to be pitied as much as the victims do not do it. They simply exacerbate the problem by telling young black men that, if they never bothered to learn how to read and therefore can't get a job, they have the right to shoot other young black men and everybody should just understand that need.

The New York Civil Liberties Union doesn't do it by constantly blaming cops for the ills of society and for attempting to horse collar them so they can't do the job we pay them to do.

The fact is, everybody has choices to make in life.

Many black children learn at an early age from their peers that they better not be "too white."

That means, many young black men think, that they should not do well in school. They should not learn how to read. They should follow the Gangsta Rap message that all women are hos and that all cops are to be disrespected. The mantra is to carry a weapon and use it to settle even the pettiest of grievances.

It has little to do with economics, as some black politicians charge.

I taught for more than 30 years, and was constantly told by unlettered teens that I was a "chump" for working at a job that paid so little and that they could make more in a day than I did in a week by steering customers to drug dealers.

Unfortunately, they were right in their assessment of the fact that they could make much more in illegal pursuits that I could ever make legally.

An analysis of last year's New York City homicides shows some interesting truths. Of the nearly 500 homicides, strangers committed fewer than 40 of them. In the 412 homicides in which information was available, 317 of the perpetrators and 288 of the victims had criminal records.

Get that. In the majority of homicide cases, there were no good guys involved. For the majority of those involved in the homicides who had records, a full half of them had records for drug sale and possession.

Eleven percent of the perps and eight percent of the vics were gang members. More than ten percent of both groups were on probation when the homicide occurred.

This year, there has been something of a paradigm shift, at least here in Rockaway. A number of those murdered do not have criminal records, are not gang members, has no relationship to the shooter.

Many others, however, did.

Take a look at what that gangster attitude does for Rockaway.

In January, two men were shot in front of 14-25 Central Avenue. A teen was shot at the Redfern Houses by a 13-year-old. A young man was shot on Beach 44 Street.

In February, a teen was shot and killed at Ocean Village.

In April, two shooters took a number of pot-shots at police.

In May, a convicted rapist was shot dead in Hammels. Later that month, an innocent teen girl was shot down and killed while dancing at a party at Redfern. Hours later, another innocent teen was shot dead on a Far Rockaway street and five were shot, but not killed, in a drive-by shooting by MS-13 gang members from Long Island.

In June, a woman sitting in her car was shot outside of Hammel Houses. Later, shots were fired on the beach, but nobody was hurt. At the end of the month, a teen was killed on the A Train at the Beach 97 Street station. Then, two were shot at the Ocean Bay Houses.

In July, three were shot in Far Rockaway and then an innocent student-athlete, who was headed for college in September, was shotgunned to death on a Far Rockaway street.

The gunplay continues to escalate and it will not end until the black community decides to end it.

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