Terryl De Mendonca, founder of the Misunderstood Youth Development Center in Kew Gardens, would much prefer reaching out to troubled teens and young adults before they must be incarcerated.
But at a forum she hosted last Thursday at Campus Magnet School in Cambria Heights, she said the community, particularly youth and young adults, must reject out of hand the notion that talking to the police or district attorney when they have knowledge of a crime is “snitching.”
“The only way we can do something about it is if people come together and start speaking up,” she said emphatically of crime.
The presentation in the school’s auditorium opened with a slide show with pictures of 50 homicide victims.
The oldest was 76. The youngest were 5.
Representatives from the Department of Education, the NYPD and the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown also attended.
So, too, did the parents of four young city residents who have died from street violence.
Laseam Hogan, 27, of Flushing, was a father of two who was an aspiring performer.
“He had just signed with Def Jam Records,” his mother, Andrea McGowan, told the audience of more than 100.
“I still look out the window to see if he’s coming home ... Love your boy while he’s still here.”
It was about noon on Oct. 15, 2010, when he met Malcolm Thompson, then 18, in a courtyard at the Pomonok Houses on Parsons Boulevard.
“I’ll never forget that phone call,” McGowan said. “He was killed over $200 that he lent that boy when he was put out, and he didn’t want to pay it back ... He was a friend.”
Thompson was convicted in June of shooting Hogan twice as the latter walked away from what had become a confrontation, and then leaning over and shooting him three more times as he lay dying in the courtyard.
People stepped up, she said, and cooperated with law enforcement, for which she was grateful, acknowledging that some people often are too afraid to take a stand and provide evidence.
“Hold on to your youngsters,” McGowan told the audience of more than 100. “The streets are trying to destroy them.”
Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy, 18, of Harlem, was a point guard on her school’s basketball team, and her father, Traylonn Murphy, said she was considering college scholarship offers from as far away as California.
“She had a bright future and was looking forward to it,” Murphy said. “Her picture is all I have left.”
He and authorities believe that his daughter was shot to death as part of a rivalry between the neighboring Manhattanville and Grant housing projects that traces back to 1972.
Murphy has channeled his pain and sense of loss into positive input at the housing projects. He and fellow volunteers meet with the youths in both locales and coordinate patrols of both areas.
Joining Murphy at Campus Magnet were Derrick Haynes and Arnita Brockington, both of whom work with him to reach out to at-risk youths in the projects.
“Derrick’s brother was the first person killed in this feud,” Murphy said. “We decided to work together so maybe my daughter will be the last.” He also praised Brockington’s work with the group and the impact they have been able to make.
“And this year, her son was convicted of killing my daughter.”
Tyshawn Brockington, 23, is serving 25 years to life.
Kendrick Ali Morrow Jr., 17, was a bright, college-bound graduate of Elmont High School with a scholarship to St. John’s University when he went to a party in Springfield Gardens on May 15, 2010.
“I just had so many hopes and dreams for my son,” Shenee Johnson said.
From what she and authorities have been able to piece together, a fight broke out at the party and spilled outside. Morrow and another youth concentrated on getting two girls with them a safe distance away.
“But then he remembered another friend, and he went back,” Johnson said. “Somebody shot him.”
The case remains officially unsolved, largely, Johnson said, because no one will cooperate with the police or the District Attorney’s Office.
“I was on the phone with the parents of those young ladies, trying to get them to talk,” she said. “They’re worried about the danger, but at least they have their daughters. I’ll never see my son again.
“What kind of world do we live in?” she asked. “You have to speak ...”
Akeal Christopher, 14, wasn’t the first teenager to sneak out to a party when he did so on June 28, 2012.
“He was supposed to be going to his father’s for the weekend,” his mother, Natasha Christopher, said.
“And at 1 a.m., I got a call saying he was shot,” she said. “I slept on the floor of his hospital room for 14 days, watching my son die slowly with a bullet in the back of his head. That is what gang violence did to my son!”
She said Akeal is believed to have been with at least seven people when he was shot, including a cousin.
“And ever since that night, all seven have been on mute,” she said. “When I asked them to go to the police, suddenly they are all minors. Death is around us every day. You prepare to bury your parents and grandparents — but nobody should ever watch a child die.”
Those with Akeal apparently came close.
“They took out his cell phone. Did they call 911? No! They started to undress my son, try and take his designer clothes.”
Christopher then acknowledged Murphy, Brockington and Haynes for the work they have done, and Murphy in particular for the kindness and compassion in his embrace of Brockington and forgiveness of his daughter’s killer.
“I am not at the point of forgiveness,” she said. “I am not going to pretend.”
There is a $12,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
During the ensuing panel discussion, Kevin O’Connor, assistant commissioner of community affairs in the NYPD’s juvenile justice division, said there very often is no sense in trying to make sense of the violence that has claimed so many young lives.
He said stronger gun laws, for example, would not likely help in many cases.
“His daughter died in a rivalry that goes back 41 years,” O’Connor said, referring to Traylonn Murphy. “Half the people in this room weren’t even alive then.”
Derrick Haynes approached the microphone when a young child asked why so many people carry guns on the street.
“They carry guns because they are afraid,” he said, shaking the child’s hand on the way back to his seat.
An NYPD detective whose identity is being withheld by the Chronicle acknowledged that is true, and that it will take peer pressure from both young and old to change the mentality.
“We have to convince young people that guns are not a symbol of status or a symbol of power,” he said. “When more people stop carrying guns, suddenly it won’t be cool. They won’t be the big men anymore.”
O’Connor said often community cooperation is the only way to build a case, and said that in many cases, the NYPD’s 1 (800) 577-TIPS (8477) hotline can be used anonymously and give the police a place to start, a direction to head in.
“You are given a number,” he said. “You don’t have to leave your name. It hasn’t changed in about 30 years.”
Mariela Palomino Herring, chief of the District Attorney’s Gang Violence and Hate Crimes Bureau, said sometimes they just are going to have to put witnesses on the stand.
“Don’t come to us first — go to someone you trust,” she said. “It will take a year to get to a trial, and a lot can happen in a year where you might not have to testify. It somebody sees five people ready to testify against him, he’ll take a plea. But we need witnesses to make a case. You have to give us a fighting chance.”