On streets of Crown Heights, standing up to violence


Allen James looked out over a sparse crowd of 25 people gathered at the corner of St. Marks and Schenectady avenues in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“We are standing in a neighborhood where shootings happen randomly and frequently,” said James, program manager for the community-based organization Save Our Streets. A small group of local residents, clergy and politicians gathered to protest the death that all too often scars Brooklyn’s streets.

This time, the rally was called to remember Emmanuel Capers, who was found in his car Oct. 6. on St. Marks Avenue. Shot in broad daylight, he suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and was later pronounced dead at Interfaith Medical Center.

At a time when murders in New York City are at a record low, nike kobe 9 elite gs it can be easy to forget that violent crime still is rampant in some neighborhoods. S.O.S remembers. The 77th Precinct, where it is based, has recorded 12 murders this year due to gun violence, 37 reported shooting victims and 31 incidents of gunfire.

Last year this area saw nine murders, while the shooting victims remained the same and shooting incidents were down by 2.

S.O.S covers only a portion of the area.  According to a study by the Center for Court Innovation, shootings were down in the catchment by 20 percent  since the organization was founded in 2010. The district in which the group  works extends from Eastern Parkway to Atlantic Avenue, Kingston Street to Utica Avenue. Last year at this time there were 17 shootings, both fatal and non-fatal. This year the numbers were down by three. In 2010 when S.O.S. began its work there were 24 for the same time period.

“If we don’t raise our voices it will continue, if we don’t stand together and express our lack of acceptance it will continue,” James lamented as he stood with his bullhorn.  Save Our Streets holds a “shooting response” every time there is a shooting in its area.

This small area keeps the members of S.O.S. busy.

The goal of S.O.S. is to work from the ground up, attempting to stop escalating violence. In a neighborhood that is wary and at times fearful of cooperation with police investigations, this is a needed service. The group works with youth who are most at risk and helps them until they cycle out of the cycle of violence — often seeing them off to college, trade schools or employment.

While speaking to the small gathering at the “shooting response,” James at one point turned the megaphone toward the street where Capers was gunned down, and made an impassioned plea. “We ask you to make a silent demonstration by coming out and standing with us, we know that there is upset and fear,” he said.  “We know there is loss and that there is a desire for peace.”

James spoke to a street that was silent and empty; nobody joined the rally. Capers was shot in his vehicle approximately seven times with reports of nine shell casings found. Fear is what S.O.S. deals with and is what it has to fight through.

The community outreach workers are a big part of this grassroots effort. These men walk the streets of Crown Heights speaking to neighbors, drug dealers and gang members. This is important because the gang members and drug culture make it difficult for law enforcement officers, who are often from other neighborhoods and of a different race. The outreach workers are from the community and are often former gang members or felons.

Derick Scott is one of these workers. nike lebron 11 He is a familiar face on the streets and works tirelessly to help heal his neighborhood. As he took the megaphone to address the tragedy on St. Marks Avenue, those who gathered could sense his passion. He spoke much like a coach trying to rally a team that has fallen behind. After he called out, “What time is it?” the crowd replied, “It’s time to take the lead.”

What was apparent at this rally and others like it is the lack of participation of the youth who are at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators. On this day there were three young teenage girls, part of the group’s youth outreach. S.O.S. provides education, activities and attempt to intercept the youth before the streets claim them.

Those in attendance were elderly, clergy or city government officials testament to the support that S.O.S. has. But this  a bigger problem for community policing: getting those who are targeted by violence involved.

Laurie Cumbo, the Democratic nominee for City Council, spoke about the stress  of daily violence. “When a life is lost in our community it is our role and responsibility to acknowledge that our community is missing an energy and a soul that had the potential to do so very much,” she said.

This is the heart of Save Our Streets: to not just save the streets but to save those who navigate them. “I admire you for even being here, and for not just looking at is as another day in the ’hood,” Cumbo said as she promised her constituents that this is something she will continue to support.

Five days later and two blocks away on St. John’s Place the crisp fall air was once again pierced by bullets that struck a body.  This young man survived. Once again Save Our Streets was there to bring to light what happened – and to renew the plea to end the violence.

Video by Melissa Walker


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