NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – The Big Apple is one of several east coast cities grappling with a serious problem: Violence is up and community and political leaders are searching for answers to the growing crisis.
The Consumer Affairs and Public Safety Committees of the New York City Council held a joint oversight hearing at City Hall Oct. 20 that focused on the sale of gang paraphernalia and its role in the proliferation of gang culture and violence in the city.
Hearing participants debated banning the sale of gang affiliated clothing as a way to curb violence. City hall hearings last December revealed clothing retailers were openly selling hats and shirts broadcasting gang colors, symbols and advocating philosophies such as “Don’t Snitch.”
Earlier this year, a detective from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office was able to purchase a Yankee baseball cap with a Bloods street gang symbol, while another detective was given the opportunity to select a gang insignia from a catalog and have it embroidered onto a hat.
The detective testified at the city council hearing that a store employee warned the cap would identify him as a member of the Bloods.
Detectives also told hearing participants that gang-related apparel was priced higher than regular clothing.
A 2007 survey conducted by the office of the NYC Public Advocate found that nearly half of city school children said gangs were a problem where they lived and two-thirds noticed gang colors in their schools.
“The sale of these items is irresponsible on all levels,” said Councilman Leroy Comrie, chairman of the Consumer Committee.
“We must protect people who either knowingly or unknowingly buy these products, whose lives could be put in danger if they wear them in the wrong neighborhood,” added Councilman Peter Vallone, chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
NYPD reported there have been 377 murders in the city through September 2008 versus 344 during the same period in 2007. Shootings are up in 2008, 1,420 to 1,324 in 2007. NYPD said murders and shootings have increased by over 10 percent.
Police said guns are commonplace on the streets, particularly among youth. One of the city’s answers to gun violence has been a $100,000 program known as “Guns for Cash.” NYPD reported Oct. 26 that five Harlem churches collected 500 guns, while two weeks earlier Brooklyn churches collected 400 guns. Those who turned in guns received a $200 bank card.
Dr. Albert Griffith, a Newark-based clinical psychologist told The Final Call going after stores that sell gang-related apparel and the manufacturers that make the gear would not solve the street gang problem. “The call to ban the clothing is foolish,” Dr. Griffith said. He said there is a divide between those who wear the colors and those that actually do the shooting.
“There are the hard core gang members that have records and are well known by the police; they don’t necessarily wear colors, but they are shooters,” Dr. Griffith stressed.
“I find that as I go through the Youth House in Newark, the 13-year-olds use the colors as a way of communicating with other teens, sort of a way to belong to something, a way to act out,” Dr. Griffith added.
In Boston, Pastor Bruce H. Wall of the Global Ministries Christian Church called for a “community lockdown” for Halloween night, specifically in Dorchester’s Codman Square neighborhood. “I would like to see 1,000 men in the streets citywide,” the pastor said in an Internet message.
“In the past we have seen a rise in street violence on Halloween night such as the stabbing of a woman 130 times, and the killing of a nine-year-old boy,” Pastor Wall told The Final Call.
Boston has recorded its 49th homicide so far in 2008 compared to 58 overall in 2007, according to Boston police. There have also been 122 non-fatal shootings versus 132 non-fatal shootings in 2007. On Oct. 26, a 27-year-old Black man was shot three times in his driveway while placing a child’s chair in his car. Two Black men were seriously wounded by gunfire on Oct. 15. Boston police reported that a lone gunman fired at least five rounds at the men.
Pastor Wall said he has been asking that a “state of emergency” be declared by the police department. Instead of getting support, Pastor Wall said he has been demonized and “cannot get the churches to stand up with me.”
“Instead some of the pastors tell me I am messing up their relationship with the mayor,” he added.
Calls to the mayor’s office and the police commissioner had not been returned by press time.
There has also been attention paid to gang-related crime in the city of Boston, according to True C. Allah, an anti-gang activist. “You cannot control the wearing of gang apparel, but there are small victories that can be won,” he told The Final Call.
“We persuaded a young man who was selling the ‘stop snitching’ t-shirts to the stores to pull them off the shelves; and he did what we asked at a considerable financial loss,” Mr. Allah said.
Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, has become a killing field once again, according to activists. Five shootings were recorded over the weekend of Oct. 24. A young mother of three was caught in a crossfire, a nine-year-old was killed and a Central High School student was wounded.
Raz Baraka, Central High’s principal, called a town hall meeting Oct. 27 at the school. He asked parents and concerned citizens to help patrol streets when the students are coming and going from the school.
“People were obviously frustrated by the reaction of the mayor and the police director, who said they had no concrete proposals for securing the students,” said Andrea Hughie, youth director for the Peoples Organization for Progress.
The principal was also frustrated by the attitude displayed by city officials and turned to community and grassroots organizations to help secure his students, Ms. Hughie said.
In interviews with the New Black Panther Party, Street Warriors and Stop Shootin’, The Final Call was told more concrete proposals are needed to solve the problem, not just band aids.
“We are calling on people to reduce the violence through their own initiatives, what we are calling ‘stop self-genocide’,” Ato-Bakari of the New Black Panther Party said.
Abdul Muhammad, head of Street Warriors, said the group has a three-pronged proposal to present to the community, which includes drug treatment programs, job training and more mental health services. A wider community meeting is planned to discuss how the community can take responsibility for stopping the violence without depending on city officials, Mr. Muhammad said.
“Our message to the community is that everyone must assist in the struggle and have a role in countering the conditions that are destroying our people,” said Yusef Ismail, director of Stop Shootin’, Inc. “We are planning to develop businesses that will be self-sustaining and to keep spreading our message through the ‘Stop Shootin’ logo,” Mr. Ismail said.