Tag Archive | "shooting"

‘Violence Interrupters’ Answer SOS in South Bronx

The whiteboard at the SOS South Bronx office displays the number of days since the last shooting in the territory SOS covers. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

The whiteboard at the SOS South Bronx office displays the number of days since the last shooting in the territory SOS covers. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

It’s hard to hold your breath for 108 days. At Save Our Streets South Bronx, which launched in January 2013, a whiteboard in their Mott Haven office read “107” on Oct. 13 and “108” on Oct. 14. They dread when that tally of days without a shooting in their 20-block territory must go back to zero. Save Our Streets, or simply SOS, originated in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in 2009 and has since expanded to 15 sites across the city. The City Council along with the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the largest U.S. charity devoted to public health, have pumped millions of dollars into this unconventional anti-violence initiative modeled after Chicago’s CeaseFire program. Now called Cure Violence, the program was celebrated in the award-winning 2011 documentary “The Interrupters.” Cure Violence has been emulated in roughly 50 cities worldwide since its inception 15 years ago. The cornerstone of Cure Violence is the work of “violence interrupters,” “credible messengers” and “outreach workers” who patrol the streets and nurture relationships with at-risk individuals, typically young people, in an effort to undo a culture of violence of which they themselves were once byproducts. A job flier for SOS South Bronx (they’re hiring) describes such responsibilities for violence interrupters as identifying youth who are gang members or at-risk for joining, finding tips on potential conflicts, mediating with those parties involved to prevent retaliations and diffusing “hot spots” where shootings are likely to occur. The credibility of these paid staffers is rooted in empathy. “What I like about Save Our Streets is it’s composed of staff and volunteers who are former gang members or drug abusers themselves, or people who have been incarcerated,” said City Councilmember Vanessa Gibson, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods such as Morrisania and Melrose. “The best person you can get to really understand what a young person is going through is someone who has been in that situation before.” Gibson allocated $5,000 of her discretionary funds for the 2015 fiscal year to SOS South Bronx. Democrat Robert Cornegy of Bedford-Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights set aside $9,000. The Council voted earlier this year to expand SOS efforts from three neighborhoods to 15, including new posts in the 44th, 46th and 47th precincts in the South Bronx. Jeffrey A. Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, echoed Gibson’s assertion that knowing the streets is key for SOS employees. “They have to have some connection to the community that doesn’t make them seem like an outside meddler or do-gooder,” explained Butts. Researchers at his school are currently evaluating the Cure Violence model and its implementation in Crown Heights and the South Bronx. “Some of the programs have successful employees who’ve never been arrested, but they might be the son of a well-known gang leader,” he said. SOS is guarded about disclosing details on its organization. An SOS staffer said the program’s parent organization, the Center for Court Innovation, clamped down on news media access after The Mott Haven Herald published the criminal record of an SOS interrupter. Robert Wolf, director of communications for the Center for Court Innovation, denied that claim but said “everyone is tied up here” and would be unavailable for interviews indefinitely. SOS staffers have been instructed not to participate in interviews without approval from the Center’s Midtown Manhattan office. Butts, whose center at John Jay received more than $1 million from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and $750,000 from the city council to study Save Our Streets through 2016 in conjunction with the Center for Court Innovation, explained the concern over public scrutiny. “These programs do get very skittish. There have been lots of stories about some of the dominant political infrastructure forces running to the media to explode the situation when something goes wrong,” Butts said. “Cure violence does not conform with the dominant political culture surrounding public safety,” he added. “So when you’re talking about crime and violence in a public policy arena, people immediately think of policing, prosecution and punishment. This program does not fit that model, so you start off with immediate opposition from the people who think conventionally about public safety.” In the South Bronx, SOS outreach workers are unarmed and identifiable by their red T-shirts. Although sanctioned by the city, they operate in communities where cooperating with police work is a serious taboo. Despite often being privy to criminal activity, SOS explicitly refuses to have contact with police. “You have a disconnect with a lot of young people who don’t trust the police and don’t think police are there to serve the public and to protect them,” Councilmember Gibson said. This wall of separation between law enforcement and social workers is not unusual. “I was visiting some police departments in Washington, D.C., and they said they keep in touch with outreach workers at these types of programs, but only at the highest level,” Butts said. “They might hear, ‘Things are really heating up in this neighborhood’ or ‘We’re getting rumors that something is about to go down between this crew and that crew,’ but no individual names, no tip-offs and certainly no post-incident information to help the investigation find a perpetrator. As soon as you do that, word gets out and the whole program is dead.” SOS South Bronx employs three interrupters and three outreach workers, all middle-aged, to engage a territory composed of four public housing complexes and about 20,000 residents. They work full-time Tuesday through Saturday, with shifts running as late as 2 a.m. In Crown Heights, interrupters underwent 40 hours of training in direct consultation with Cure Violence experts in Chicago, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. SOS South Bronx is also in frequent contact with Chicago, allowing for a uniform implementation of the model. Crown Heights had a homicide rate for those aged 15 to 24 nearly four times the city average in 2011, at 41.9 homicides for every 100,000 people in that age bracket, according to a report by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. (The department is now an advisor to SOS.) Fordham / Bronx Park and High Bridge / Morrisania in the South Bronx were also in the top-five neighborhoods most plagued by youth gun violence. Whereas SOS Crown Heights developed a successful “Youth SOS” program driven by student volunteers, efforts to duplicate that youth engagement in the South Bronx have foundered. “The youth are disempowered and basically have no opportunity. One of biggest frustrations from a social work perspective is when you’re not addressing the core causes behind these issues,” said Markus Redding, a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work who has worked extensively in non-violent conflict resolution. “It’s going to be very similar to what we do in the court system, which is reacting to what’s there but not getting at root causes like better education.” The Crown Heights program reported recruiting 96 community members between January 2010 and May 2012 to participate in the SOS mission. All but one of these recruits was male, 94 were black and two were Hispanic. An SOS South Bronx official said his team has fostered about 25 such relationships. Researchers led by Butts have interviewed roughly 200 people about gun violence in neighborhoods with and without SOS programs, and they are analyzing shooting data in these test and control areas. Butts would not give any tentative findings — their work began in February 2014 and will conclude around August 2016 — but he did outline basic variables that impact Cure Violence: “To what extent are public institutions well-coordinated? Do social services people talk to the schools? Do law enforcement know their own community? How do neighborhood residents feel about their access to necessary support? Are police seen as an outside occupying force?”
The SOS South Bronx office displays posters advocating to end gun violence. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

The SOS South Bronx office displays posters advocating ending gun violence. (LAUREN FOSTER/The Bronx Ink)

SOS South Bronx has struggled to form alliances with institutions in the area. An exception is the Bronx Christian Fellowship, a church in Mott Haven where Rev. Que English has collaborated closely with SOS efforts. English reiterated the need to solve violence through means outside law enforcement. “There’s an idea in these communities that if a cop kills us they’ll get away with it,” she said. “It’s circulated throughout generations. I once heard a 5-year-old say, “I don’t like cops.’” Religious figures are a core component of the SOS strategy, according to literature distributed at the program’s Mott Haven office. One form reads, “Faith-based leaders are encouraged to preach against gun violence from their pulpits.” What would it take for programs such as SOS to thrive in the pastor’s community? “My first thought is a miracle,” English responded. “If we had a wish list, it would be ongoing community awareness and a lot of media coverage because we need to get the word out on violence to turn the tide. “It’s going to take a while, and there’s no quick answer,” she added. Anti-violence initiatives are not new in New York City. In 1979, Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels, whose red berets and jackets became trademarks of the amateur pseudo-police force that patrolled the subway amid a rash of violence. That operation was controversial for its vigilante approach, instructing volunteers to make citizens arrests and even providing them training in martial arts. The Guardian Angels do not accept volunteers with gang affiliations or serious criminal records. But Redding and Gibson support the inclusion of ex-convicts in SOS South Bronx. “With the prison industrial complex — we have more people incarcerated in the United States than any other country in the history of the world — there’s such labeling and the stereotyping of anyone who has committed a crime,” Redding said. “That lack of a second chance is very frustrating.” In areas of Chicago where Cure Violence has been implemented, shootings are down 75 percent, according to cureviolenge.org. Crown Heights saw a 6 percent drop in shootings from January 2011 to May 2012 — the first year and a half of SOS activity — while comparable Brooklyn neighborhoods saw increases of 18 to 28 percent in that period. Experts say it is premature to conclude a cause-and-effect relationship between SOS efforts and diminished shooting rates, but they point to these data as cause for optimism about the efficacy of Cure Violence. Still, Chicago is far from eradicating its gun epidemic or the culture behind it. The city has suffered 329 homicides in 2014, the Chicago Tribune reported, following 440 in 2013. Lil Bibby, a 19-year-old at the forefront of the hardcore rap movement in a city nicknamed “Chiraq,” spoke in January on New York’s HOT 97 hip-hop radio station about gun violence in his hometown. “In the last couple of years everybody got guns now, man. There ain’t no more fist fighting or arguing anymore, just guns,” Lil Bibby said. “Guns come out right away. There are kids, 13 or 14, playing with guns, and there ain’t no big homies telling them, ‘Stop this.’” Several months later, HOT 97 debuted “Hot N----” by the then-19-year-old from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, named Bobby Shmurda. The song is now ubiquitous on New York street corners, and it was blaring on repeat from a stereo across the street from the SOS South Bronx office on the day the whiteboard showed No. 95. “Hot Boy,” as it’s called on the radio, reflects a pervasive gun culture that SOS staffers are fighting desperately to reform. Seven of the song’s first 10 lines, and most thereafter, draw on boastful anecdotes dealing with guns. Although experts such as Redding note the peril of discounting underlying political causes behind crime, Save Our Streets is premised on changing a cultural mentality — as Butts put it, “accepting violence as normal behavior.” “It’s not an easy thing or a quick thing, but I think it’s the only way you fix this problem,” he said. “If we continue to see community-level violence through the lens of a war on crime, it will just be a war on crime forever. It takes someone bold enough to say maybe there’s a new way to think about this problem.” To keep urban shooting tallies like the one on the Mott Haven whiteboard low, must interrupters patrol violent street corners indefinitely? “The foundational idea behind this model is that you implement it for three years or 10 years  — some period of time  — and you slowly shift away the social norms in support of violence, then you’re done,” Butts said. “There’s no need for people to be constantly funding programs to stop cigarette smoking: that cultural shift has already happened in this country. It’s the same thing with violence.”

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Bronx Court Officers Honored for Stopping Gunfight near Yankee Stadium

Bronx Bureau President Ruben Diaz, Jr., center, praised court officers for heroic acts beyond their daily duties, including stopping a vendor gunfight in late August.

  It was lunchtime on a sunny day outside Yankee Stadium  last month. Bronx Supreme Court Officer Raymond Mercado had just picked up his Spanish takeout meal when he heard the piercing pops of gunfire and watched a crowd of people fleeing in panic.
 “Everyone was running away from the gunshots," said Mercado, 42. "I was just looking for the shooter.” He was one of six court officers who rushed to the scene Aug. 23 after an angry vendor opened fire on the busy corner of 161st Street and Gerard Avenue. Mercado picked up the revolver the shooter had flung on the sidewalk while his fellow officers chased down the suspect. “We did what we were supposed to do. We acted on our training and we acted as a team.” On Thursday afternoon, Bronx Bureau President Ruben Diaz Jr. honored the court officers for their acts of heroism in a small ceremony inside Diaz’s office in the Bronx County Courthouse on the Grand Concourse. Besides Mercado, Diaz gave accolades to Bronx Criminal Court Officers Paul Tammaro, Vincent Allis and Wascar Herrera, and Civil Court Officers Steve Snyder and Katie Dalton.
“You make your job so effortless that we don’t realize that you’re prepared, you’re trained and you  have the heart and the courage really can take charge of the situation,” Diaz told the officers, who stood side by side in a small conference room while proud family members clapped and captured the moment on their cell phones. Seven family members, mostly siblings, of Officer Katie Dalton, 48, said they were not surprised by their sisters’ bravery.
 "No one messes with Katie,” Dalton's sister, 46-year-old Jennifer Russell, chimed in.

Court Officer Katie Dalton, 48, hugs her sister Thursday shortly after Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. commended her heroism during an Aug. 23 vendor shooting.

The alleged shooter, 52-year-old water stand vendor Horace Coleman, is accused of firing three to six rounds of ammunition  at a newspaper seller after getting into a big argument with him the day before over a turf war, witnesses told The New York Post.
By the time Dalton made it to the shooter, fellow officers had the suspect pinned down on the street, so she scrambled to help the victims. The shooter hit 60-year-old newspaper vendor Douglas Watkins and 41-year-old Clarence “Clay” Pearson in their torsos. Dalton knelt down by Pearson as officers waited for medical aid.
Dalton recalled Pearson saying, "'I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” she said. "I  just tried to keep him calm,  just tried to help him out, to make him feel better.” Pearson died on Aug. 25, and Watkins survived. Coleman, who had sold sunglasses and bottled water, is facing murder charges. Bronx County Administrative Judge Douglas McKeon commended the court officers for helping prevent the erratic gunfight from escalating further.
“Their commitment doesn’t end or begin at the courthouse steps,” McKeon said. “They truly epitomize the kind of characteristics that we need in officers today. When money is tight, they’re asked to do more.” Amid budget shortfalls, the New York State Court system has eliminated more than 1,300 positions through layoffs and attrition over the past few years, including court officers from all ranks. Mercado said he has aided police in a handful of similar scuffles during his eight years in the court’s civil division. He can’t help but feeling a little uneasy these days on his lunch break, and he tries to be extra vigilant as he strolls the crowded thoroughfares near the stadium.
 “It’s a little nerve-racking,” he said. “You don’t feel it while it’s happening; you feel it afterward, and then you start thinking you have a family.” Mercado’s 5-year-old son, Justin, smiled wide as his dad shook Diaz’s hand and accepted his certificate. If he doesn’t cut it as a singer like Justin Bieber, Justin Mercado wants to become a cop or court officer like his father, Mercado’s wife, Jane, said. “He looks up to his dad tremendously,” she said. “It’s exciting for him.”

Court Officer Raymond Mercado strives to be a good role model for his 5-year-old son, Justin.

Thursday’s awards ceremony also honored several other court officers for their acts of heroism in two other incidents. On June 19, Capt. Anthony Manzi, Sgt. Ramon Dominguez and court officers Jose Reyes and Carlos Rivera helped catch a man accused of burglarizing several vehicles in the area. Court Officer Angel Ripolls of the criminal division helped save a 1-year-old who was choking on Sept. 3. “It’s cool for me to know that everyday people who are doing their jobs are here in our borough, and are also our heroes,” Diaz said.

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Bodega Robbery Suspects Charged with Murder in Cuevas Shooting

Christopher Dorsey's aunt said her 17-year-old nephew was pressured by the older suspects in the robbery and ultimate death of a bodega worker in the Bronx.  (SADEF A. KULLY/ Bronx Ink)

Three Bronx men arrested for robbing the bodega where worker Reynaldo Cuevas ended up shot and killed by a police officer were arraigned Friday in Bronx Criminal Court on charges of both armed robbery and murder. Defendants Ernesto Delgado, 28, Orlando Ramos, 31, and Christopher Dorsey, 17, appeared before Judge Villages yesterday.  Family members of the suspects argued outside the courtroom that the murder charge was not fair. “Honestly, I feel like he shouldn’t be charged – he was committing a crime but he didn’t shoot him,” said Antonio Rodriquez, 21, brother of Orlando Ramos, about the death of Cuevas. “I think this is a way for the state to clean their hands – that cop shot him.” The Bronx District Attorney’s office has no comment on the case. Police said an officer accidentally shot Reynaldo Cuevas, after the 20-year-0ld Morrisania bodega worker stumbled out of the armed robbery scene on September 7.  Cuevas's family members dispute the claim that the officer's gun discharged accidentally and have called for an investigation. The youngest of those charged in the incident, Christopher Dorsey, 17, looked anxious and emotional in court. “He was the first one that came out," said his grandmother, Anna Cabrera. "He surrendered. He was so scared that day. He is not doing well inside.” "He is actually a good kid, he gets good grades, and he was definitely peer pressured into this. He has never held a gun.” Dorsey’s aunt. Jadeira Cruz, 39, said that her nephew had been diagnosed as emotionally disturbed. “I think the older men took advantage of his mental status,” said Cruz. “He has the mind of a 13-year old.” Dorsey’s lawyer. Cesar Gonzalez said that it was his first appearance in court with the defendant and that he would have to review all the material before making an official statement on the case. Maria Tobia, lawyer for Orlando Ramos, did not give any comments on the case. All three defendants are scheduled to be back on court on Sept 20th.

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PHOTOS: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

9 September, 2012- Bronx - Reverend Que English (left) holds prayer for Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle on Friday morning. (The Bronx Ink/Jika González)

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Further reading: Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

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Morrisania Mourns Robbery Victim Shot by Police

Clergy works to calm activists as anti-NYPD feelings rage Rain began falling Saturday night just as Rev. Ruben Austria led a passionate prayer for justice and healing in the aftermath of a botched robbery that left a 20-year-old bodega worker dead from police gunfire. Huddled in a tight circle at 169th Street and Franklin Avenue, roughly 50 mourners — family members, friends and community activists — turned out Saturday night in honor of Reynaldo Cuevas, the young father from the Dominican Republic accidentally shot by police during a robbery scuffle early Friday morning. “We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage. That it doesn’t cause us to consume ourselves and tear one each other down,” Austria told the group, with he and fellow clergy starting a chorus of “Hallelujah.” Rally participants gathered around a makeshift memorial draped with flowers, rosaries and hand-scribbled notes across from Aneurys Daily Grocery in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Cuevas worked six nights a week at the store, often staying for 16-hour shifts.

Community activists joined cousins of Reynaldo Cuevas in a prayer vigil Saturday night. "We want to stand in solidarity with the family and pray that our outrage doesn’t lead to in-rage," Rev. Ruben Austria said. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

The memorial included a few dollar bills, some cigarette butts and a lottery ticket — the type of loot the armed robbers tried to make off with in a backpack before police arrived. Around 1:50 a.m. Friday, Cuevas, in an “understandable panic to get away from the gunman as fast as possible,” ran outside the bodega to escape the masked robbers and collided with a police officer, according to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and the officer accidentally fired his weapon, striking Cuevas in his left shoulder. He died at St. Barnabas Hospital. “I want to extend my condolences to the Cuevas family for their loss,” Kelly said in a statement Friday. Kelly emphasized the events had transpired in “split seconds.” Some came to the Saturday night rally simply to mourn the loss of Cuevas, described by relatives as a kind-hearted young man who’d been saving to send money to his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic. “He was hard-working and humorous and caring,” said Ashley Rodriguez, 14, a cousin of Cuevas. She said she last saw Cuevas two days before his death, when he helped her get through some issues she was facing with high school. Cuevas was a good listener, she said, and he urged her to stay focused on her studies.

Reynaldo Cuevas, 20, worked nights at the bodega, saving money for his 3-year-old daughter, Jamie, in the Dominican Republic.

“How many parents got to bury their kids? When is this really going to stop?” said Juanita Young, an activist with Families of Stolen Lives and Parents Against Police Brutality. “I am so angry at what just happened here — that young man just trying to make a life for him and his family … When is enough enough?” The candlelit vigil, announced via a cardboard sign at the memorial site and on a Facebook page for Cuevas created Saturday, also drew activists from the New York Civil Liberties Union and Stop “Stop and Frisk” Freedom Fighters, who oppose the NYPD’s controversial tactic of searching people on the streets over concerns police disproportionately target people of color. “People are out here not just for this incident, but because I think what everybody feels and knows and understands is there’s been years of police harassing and targeting young black and Latino men,” Austria said. Ashley Rodriguez said she’s not sure her cousin’s death represents a bigger problem; she just wants to see an investigation into the officer who shot him. For now, she wants that officer suspended. “It’s uplifting to know that even people that didn’t know him are supporting us because they know this wasn’t right,” said Mary Rodriguez, 24, another cousin of Cuevas who was wearing an anti-“Stop and Frisk” button. A downpour dispersed the crowd on Saturday, with some activists announcing plans to reschedule a march for Wednesday, and to attend a funeral for Cuevas on Monday. Saturday’s event was the second emotional vigil honoring Cuevas this weekend. On Friday night, after the news vans and most reporters had left, the crowd erupted into angry shouting at the police, who stood quietly across the street. Austria was there, too, working to calm the small crowd for several hours and prevent the scene from escalating into a violent confrontation with the officers. “The police have to be held accountable when they use excessive force, but we have to hold ourselves accountable. The community’s got to hold each other accountable because the violence between us is unacceptable just as well,” Austria said. “Nobody gets a pass for doing wrong.” Staff writers Sadef Kully, Adam Perez and Jan Hendrik Hinzel contributed to this report.

The makeshift memorial included a few dollars, cigarette butts and used lottery tickets--booty found on the suspects after their arrest, said police. (ADAM PEREZ / The Bronx Ink)

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Teen suspect in shooting outside police station arrested

A 16-year-old suspect in the shooting of another teenager outside a Bronx precinct has been apprehended, according to the NY Daily News. The shooting occurred around 1:25 a.m. Thursday, according to the New York Police Department. The victim is in critical but stable condition at the St. Barnabus Hospital.

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Teen girl shot in Morris Heights – NY Daily News

An 18-year-old girl is clinging to life after being shot in the head Sunday morning, reports the Daily News. The Victim, whose name has not been released was shot while walking with two men at 2:15 a.m. near West Tremont and Grand Aves. She was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital.

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Bloody week in the Bronx

Bloody week in the Bronx

Violence in the Bronx has escalated in this week with three shootings in a span of three days, leaving a 4-year-old boy in critical condition and Bronx residents feeling rattled. Click on each marker for more details. View Bloody week in the Bronx in a larger map

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