As New York City surpassed 1,000 shootings for the year during a particularly violent summer, anti-gun violence leaders have a simple message: fund what works.

Leaders among the crisis management system—who mediate conflict before gun violence erupts, and then connect at-risk youth and victims of gun violence to trauma services, case workers, and employment programs—are calling for more resources to expand their work with more staffers in more communities.

In Far Rockaway, Rosalyn Mason of the Rock Safe Streets violence interrupter group said just last weekend, her team was stretched beyond the typical 10-block focus area. After deploying a team on Friday where an earlier Far Rockaway shooting happened, multiple people were shot at a party on Gipson Street early the next morning.

Rock Safe Streets is holding a shooting response effort on that block this Friday—but her team of eight’s work is difficult without the adequate funding to spread out beyond the group's "catchment area."

Crisis management system and cure violence leaders on Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn on September 1st, 2020. SYDNEY PEREIRA/GOTHAMIST

"More violence interrupters, outreach workers, case managers, social workers are needed to deal with the trauma of our people," Mason said during a Tuesday rally in Bed-Stuy, which was held with more than 100 people representing dozens of organizations citywide.

As of August 31st, there were 1,014 shootings affecting 1,248 victims citywide this year. That’s up from 541 shooting incidents and 635 victims over the same time period last year, NYPD spokesperson Detective Sophia Mason confirmed. On Labor Day last year, September 2nd, there were eight shooting incidents, 11 victims, and five total homicides.

“We’ve done more with less,” said A.T. Mitchell, founder of cure violence group Man Up! based in East New York. “Could you imagine if you invested more into this type of model?"

Community leaders said that the needed funds would go to more than just on-the-ground mediation.

“I often like to call us the street doctors,” said Mason, of the Rock Safe Streets group. “Our prescription is to be able to give one-on-one counseling, to be able to give group therapy, to be able to give bereavement services, to be able to educate them as far as job employment and teaching them how to write resumes—and just all of those things mixed into one and dealing with the trauma that they’re facing. That’s where it can really really help.”

Oresa Napper-Williams, who founded Not Another Child after her 21-year-old son was fatally shot in Brooklyn in 2006, says staffers on the ground are able to connect with community members far more than members of the de Blasio administration.

“They are more knowledgeable of what is going on in our community than anybody that wears a blue suit, any elected official, any mayor, they are more knowledgeable about the needs of our young people and the travesties that they face everyday,” Napper-Williams said.

A 2017 study found two cure violence sites in the South Bronx and East New York saw a larger drop in gun injuries compared to areas in Flatbush and Harlem, which did not have cure violence sites at the time.

“It works,” Napper-Williams added. “Trust the process.”

The uptick in shootings this summer, a season when more shootings are known to occur, comes as the nation debates the role of police in communities in mass protests. Hundreds occupied City Hall Park this summer demanding the city "defund the police," meaning shift money from the NYPD to community resources. Violence interrupters on Tuesday said their work is where resources should be moved.

“When we talk about defund police, y’all think we out here looking for anarchy,” founder of another violence interrupter group, Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes, Shanduke McPhatter, said during the press conference. “This is defund police.”

“One conflict could lead to five shootings and we can count the mediations that we are in the middle of every single day,” McPhatter added.

Ahead of Labor Day weekend, Detective Mason said the department has “shifted resources that will allow us to pay overtime during a busy time of the summer.” The Post reports the overtime shift will deploy “hundreds” of cops through Labor Day weekend in areas where the West Indian Day Parade and J’Ouvert are typically scheduled in Brooklyn. (Both were cancelled due to the pandemic).

Mayor Bill de Blasio has recently allocated $10 million in crisis management system funds to add another five sites, a part of an expansion in which the city will solicit proposals in a forthcoming process, mayoral spokesperson Chester Soria said. After a bloody June in which NYC saw a 130 percent spike in shootings compared to June of last year, the de Blasio administration rolled out additional “take-back-the-block” efforts, though it is not clear what further monetary resources have been provided.

All told, the crisis management system has $45 million in funds—a trifling amount compared to the NYPD's $5 billion-plus budget.

Soria added that "groups on the ground are working with community leaders and local commands to identify and prioritize areas of concerns" ahead of Labor Day weekend.

The Office to Prevent Gun Violence and crisis management system groups are doing outreach, canvassing, and peacekeeping messaging, he added.

Pinpointing what’s causing the rise in shootings in NYC, which corresponds with a rise in shootings in other American cities this summer, is difficult. The mayor and NYPD officials have blamed the courts system, early releases from Rikers Island during a COVID-19 outbreak in the jail system, and bail reforms. Data contradicts such narratives. De Blasio has also suggested the coronavirus pandemic and massive job loss is related.

“No one has the exact answer for what it is,” said Kheperah Kearse, the associate director at Queens cure violence group Life Camp, Inc., who works with helping young people deal with trauma they’re facing. “A lot of people are grieving because they’ve lost loved ones and they don’t know how to cope. A lot of people have lost jobs. A lot of people are hopeless. That cocktail of emotion can be extremely volatile."

Kearse added, “We want people to know that there are resources and there are other ways to act out their aggression."


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