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Queens Chronicle

The battle to stop area gun violence

Town hall with community-based groups discussing strategies

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:35 pm, Thu Jun 13, 2019.

A January shooting in a car in St. Albans. A shooting on the platform of the 7 train in February. A Jamaica man opening his door and getting shot in the chest. A Springfield Gardens man shot in the back in March. And one day in April when one man was shot in the chest after an argument in Corona, another was shot to death in his car in Jamaica.

With June being Gun Violence Awareness Month, Borough President Melinda Katz, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and community-based organizations held a town hall at Borough Hall last Thursday.

“This nation has a demonic obsession with guns,” Williams said. “I can’t describe it in any other way.”

He added, “There was a point where it wasn’t like this. This happened because people made a concerted effort that we have to continue selling guns after guns were no longer a tool that was needed in this country. And they put out ads connecting ownership of guns with being an American. And that has stuck. So we have tied being an American with owning the most insane guns that I could even imagine.”

Patrol Borough Queens North has seen 19 shooting incidents through May 26, up from nine through the same point in 2018. And Patrol Borough Queens South has seen 27, down from 28 through the same point last year.

“I look forward to the day when we pick up a phone and we hear the fact that there’s no shootings and we think, ‘Oh, it’s just another average day here in the borough of Queens,’” said Katz, a candidate for district attorney. “Because not having shootings should be the norm.”

Katz considered the town hall “the middle of the conversation” on gun violence and how to help community-based organizations whose mission it is to “make sure that people do not pick up a gun.”

“We have youths out there and young people out there that don’t think there is an infrastructure in place so that they feel that they have support,” Katz said, adding that young people “have an idea that the gangs are chosen families.”

She said an issue has been the illegal selling of guns on the street to young people who believe they need one to feel safe.

“That’s why this vicious cycle keeps happening,” Katz said. “So we need to get the traffickers who are coming in and taking advantage of this borough. But at the same time we have to reduce the demand.”

Katz said the organizations speaking at the town hall are working on solving the problem but that it will take teamwork.

“One agency can’t do it,” Katz said. “It’s got to be a collaboration of everybody who’s here.”

Katz and Williams also were joined by police representatives.

One community-based organization at the meeting is 696 Build Queensbridge, whose program made news in early 2017 as the Queensbridge Houses went a year without a shooting.

Shyism Bryant, a leader of the organization, said it tries to show people alternatives to violence.

“You don’t have to have a gun,” he said. “You can fight a war with an email.”

Bryant said the group’s crisis management system focuses on the effects of peer pressure as well as giving young people food, clothing and shelter.

“We give them things to look forward to so they have something to lose,” Bryant said. “Because when you don’t have anything to lose, it’s easy for you to transgress.”

Lance Feurtado co-founded the King of Kings Foundation with his brother, Todd. They were once drug dealers whose business spanned 23 states. In 1995, they were arrested by the federal government and spent 10 years in prison.

The foundation promotes education because as Feurtado said, “we know the lack of it can lead to homelessness, poverty and incarceration.”

Feurtado added, “We help them understand that it’s not normal to hear gunshots. It’s not normal to carry a gun every day. You’re not an officer. Why are you carrying a gun?”

Erica Ford started Life Camp nearly 20 years ago, following the murders of two children in her community. Life Camp works with at-risk inner-city youth from ages 13 to 24. She noted that it provides therapeutic and legal services inside schools and detention centers.

“We believe in treating violence as a disease from the public health perspective so it becomes prevention as opposed to criminalization,” Ford said.

Fathers Alive in the Hood participates in community initiatives and held its first peace walk in 2012 after the shooting death of Darryl Adams.

The organization provides guidance to teenage boys and young adult men.

“How we deal with the fatherlessness issue is we create particular groups that are in different NYCHA housing developments throughout New York City,” said Kenny Carter, CEO of the organization.

Larry Grubler, CEO of Transitional Services for New York, which provides residential and outpatient services to people with both clinical and rehab services, spoke about the perception of mental illness related to gun violence.

He noted that 4 percent of violence is attributable to mental illness.

“In other words 96 percent of the violence in America has nothing to do with mental illness,” Grubler said.

He added, “The overwhelming majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent. Just like the overwhelming majority of people are not violent.”

Another statistic he shared was that 60 percent of gun deaths are actually suicides and not homicides.

Grubler added that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of crimes.

He also said one of the hardest distinctions to make is labeling someone as mentally ill after a mass shooting.

“Anyone who kills someone else in a mass shooting scenario or otherwise is not what we would consider mentally healthy,” Grubler said. “But that does not mean they have a clinical diagnosis and therefore a treatable mental illness.”

Grubler also referenced the national dialogue about mental health that seems to follow each mass shooting at a school or other public place.

“People talk about increasing gun background checks for people with mental illnesses in the context of preventing homicide, not suicide,” he said. “This is a conversation that plays out in the media and among politicians time and time again after a prominent shooting tragedy; perhaps because talking about mental health is easier than talking about guns.”

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