November 15, 2010

Gun violence shatters Syracuse's nerves

Yesterday, sitting in the gazebo in My Sweet Baboo’s garden (one of the most peaceful places I know), it was hard to comprehend that only about five blocks northwest of us, four people were shot last week while playing cards. And a couple dozen blocks northeast of us, two more teenagers were shot last Thursday. Coming on the heels of two shootings on Halloween, these incidents have really challenged the Syracuse community.

Many of these crimes involve people who know each other – they’re retaliation for some real or imagined slight – and most of them involve shooters and victims no older than their early twenties – in some cases, considerably younger than that.

Citizens, including local notable Mary Nelson, are reaching out to help; Nelson’s nephew was one of the victims on Halloween. One of the messages coming out of Saturday’s community meeting was very simple, very clear, and right on the money:  If you see something wrong, report it. Kids loitering, drug sales, people hanging around the neighborhood who don’t belong, comings and goings from the wrong places at the wrong times – call the police.

We have to get to a point where people are more concerned with what’s going wrong than they are fearful of calling for help. For one reason or another, whether based on a real or imagined bad act by police, some folks simply won't call the cops. (Witness the reaction to possibly putting cameras up in certain crime-prone neighborhoods.) The intent is not to spy on people, and it's not to identify illegal immigrants, it's to help deter crime.  In fact, it was because of a camera that someone was arrested in a recent murder.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the folks who complain about the police are the ones who tend to live in higher crime areas, so it’s a ‘cutting off the nose to spite your face’ kind of situation. At the same time, police need to respond when things are reported, and create a pattern of responsiveness which will encourage people to call.

Frank Fowler, the police chief, needs to be front and center with his men and with the community, making it clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that the police are here to protect all of our citizens – rich and poor, white and black, Asian and Hispanic, young and old - equally and without delay.  It needs to be equally clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the police will act within the law while they enforce the law.

Where possible, we need more police on the streets, out of their cars, walking the blocks, keeping an eye on things. I may be old-school, but it makes me feel better when I see cops walking around the neighborhood. (Seeing them drive by too fast for me to flag them down if I needed them is somehow not as comforting). We know where the crime is happening, and that’s where we need the police to be.

What else can we do? There are those that would say we need more programs for at-risk kids, so they don’t become shooters or victims, but of course programs need funding, and there’s no extra money to go around. We need fewer abandoned houses (we have more than 1000, I think) and more people living in the city, so the tax base is stronger, but it’s a tough sell lately to convince folks to move into the ‘hood. We also need fewer people pushing their own agendas which only distract us from the real issues.

We need parents to parent, we need fathers not sperm donors, we need adults having babies not babies having babies, we need the churches to kick it up a notch with their congregations and get them more active… it’s almost an endless list, and that makes it hard to figure out where to start. Some of this stuff is sytemic; it didn't fall apart in a day, and it won't be corrected in a day.

But hopefully what comes out of the meetings and discussions and the horrors of the past two weeks will be one community focusing on one big problem – guns and kids.