Two toddlers swung from a yellow bar in the playground at the center of Brooklyn’s Marcy Houses on Wednesday morning. Laughing and chasing each other, they were oblivious to what had just happened.
The night before the boys’ father, 25-year-old Marcus Thomas, had been shot in the head and killed.
“They don’t know what’s going on,” said their grandmother, who declined to give her name, sucking something from between her teeth, looking at her feet, “Lucky for them, eh?”
Police continue to investigate the death and are still looking for witnesses. Neighbors said they heard explosions of gunfire from an automatic assault weapon. “Woke me up in a fit!” said William Torres, 78, who lives in the adjacent red brick building. “About 15 shots it was, then I hear people screaming and running.”
Torres estimated he’d see someone at least once a day wandering around with a gun visible. He said it’s been like that for years.
Gun violence at Marcy Houses and elsewhere in New York City’s public housing have been the NYPD’s primary justification for its stop, question and frisk policy, which last year led police to stop people 685,754 times on city streets. Already this year, the NYPD has conducted more than 200,000 stops.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin granted class-action status to a lawsuit alleging that the implementation of the policy is racially biased. In her 57-page statement Judge Scheindlin criticized what she called the city’s “cavalier attitude” toward suspicionless stops.
Just down Myrtle Avenue, just one corner of the Sumner Houses had 1,131 of these stops in 2011 — more than all but five other spots in all of New York City.
Three of those stops resulted in arrests for criminal possession of a weapon. But police data also indicates no guns were among the weapons seized. In the 79th precinct, which includes Marcy and Sumner Houses, police found 12 guns among the 14,493 stops in the precinct. Eleven were in the possession of black men between the ages of 17 and 38. And every one of these seizures occurred in or within a block of public housing.
Among all of New York City’s top six stop-and-frisk hotspots, which saw 8,099 stops in 2011, police seized only three guns. Two were from the same person at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. One was in Jamaica — which contains the No. 2 spot in the entire city, with 1,546 stops last year.
The Ravenswood Houses, Flushing and Corona all had areas in the top 50 stop-and-frisk sites citywide. A block-by-block list of stop and frisk records is posted online at thenewyorkworld.com/public/2012/may/nyw-hotspots-map/index.html
Residents in the Brooklyn housing projects say they know guns are a tremendous problem in their communities, but many have started questioning the effectiveness of stop and frisk as the way to eradicate the plague.
“They come around all day, stopping us for droppin’ butts on the ground, but where are they when we really need them?” said one woman in the Marcy Projects today. “They here stop stopping innocent people, but when the sun goes down and we got problems with them young kids, you can’t get no help!”
The city has vehemently defended stop and frisk, citing a massive reduction in crime since its introduction.
Mayor Bloomberg told a press conference this week, “I think it’s fair to say that stop, question and frisk has been an essential part of the NYPD’s work; it’s taken more than 6,000 guns off the streets in the last eight years, and this year we are on pace to have the lowest number of murders in recorded history. We’re not going to do anything that undermines that trend and threatens public safety.”Police Commissioner Ray Kelly this week ordered closer scrutiny of stops, and the department says it’s enhancing officers’ training.
But as Torres gazed over to Marcus Thomas’s two young sons, who don’t yet understand the depth of their loss, he sighed. “I just don’t understand,” he said. “Stop and Frisk don’t work around here, they haven’t stopped the shootin’ and the killing, so why don’t they try something else? Something a bit more strategic?”