Gotham Gazette Thu, 23 Jan 2020 04:57:11 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Max & Murphy Podcast: A 'Mass Shooting' in Brownsville & the Community Response, with Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel cm alicka wbai 600

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

July 31, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: A Mass Shooting in Brownsville & the Community Response

cm alicka wbaiCity Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel joined the show to discuss the "mass shooting" that occured in her district on Saturday night at the end of a traditional, celebratory community block party, how the community is responding, and what her constituents need so that gun violence is eliminated.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: A 'Mass Shooting' in Brownsville & the Community Response, with Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel Wed, 31 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
From Awareness to Action: Combating The Epidemic of Gun Violence jum williams stop

Jumaane Williams, co-author, center (photo: @JumaaneWilliams)

Throughout June, we observed Gun Violence Awareness Month. In the year since we last marked this occasion, 33,000 people lost their lives to gun violence in this country. A mass shooting of four or more casualties occurred nearly every day of that year, and just last week, five people were killed and two injured as a shooter opened fire on an Annapolis newsroom. Over the course of the month about 3,000 people were killed. Over 200 were children.

The statistics are staggering, but at the same time, we have come, over time, to acknowledge and accept this carnage as part of American life. No one can deny it -- we are, in fact, well aware of the plague of gun violence in America.

Yet while this past year has seen death and heartbreak on a massive scale, it has also been marked by a heightened, sustained awareness of the problem that extends beyond the headlines and the evening news. More than many previous years, the horrors and the causes of gun violence in this country have been spotlighted and a central part of the public consciousness. School walkouts and the March for Our Lives, driven by young people across the country, have made it clear that awareness itself is insufficient. We must continue to use this moment to propel awareness into action.

This action, of course, can take many forms. People can use their votes to demand representatives who will stand up to the NRA and other special interests, to fight for common sense gun safety measures. People have the power to make gun reform—not lip service, but real progress—a defining issue of this year’s elections. To make elected officials aware that thoughts, prayers, and passive support are not enough.

Shootings permeate every area of American life -- from churches and schools to concerts and workplaces. The vast majority of gun violence deaths, though, still stems from the daily plague of gun violence in our streets. This is the form of violence that often evades the national consciousness, but is devastating to communities.

This week, as the nation celebrates the Fourth of July, historical trends would suggest that on the ground, in certain neighborhoods, gun violence and the devastation it causes will increase. At odds with the air of celebration, this is a sobering reminder that awareness alone does not create solutions. Much of the recent awareness and attention has rightly been directed at the volume of firearms entering communities. While the availability of guns is one side of the problem we also have to consider why people use them.

Gun violence is a crisis with roots in social-structural inequality, economic distress, trauma, behavioral and public health, and when it is treated as such, we can stop the spread of the disease and combat it at its core. In cities like New York, black men are 13 times more likely to be killed in an act of gun violence than their white counterparts. These wounds—despite rarely making national news—leave a history of trauma in low-income communities of color.

And in New York City, we are relying on community to lead, activating what is known as the Crisis Management System. The Crisis Management System is a network of 50 community-based organizations attached to sites throughout the five boroughs that focus on violence interruption. The organizations employ people who have experienced many of the same things as the young people most at risk, and these violence interrupters identify and intervene in conflicts before they escalate into bloodshed. Recognizing that violence is exacerbated by social stressors, these interventions include additional supports such as job training programs, mental health services, legal aid, hospital responder programs, links to institutions of higher education, and art programming.

The approach is working.

In 2017, the city saw its lowest rates of violence since the 1950s, with a significantly greater drop in areas targeted by Cure Violence than the citywide average. There is much work to be done, but these successes show that with meaningful investment of energy and resources, violence can be prevented and lives saved.

As Congress refuses to take up the fight to end gun violence, community activists and their organizations are on the streets, effecting vital, incremental change. Just as Americans must continue to push their representatives in Congress toward gun violence solutions, they need also to work within their towns and cities to support local voices, groups, and movements, to demand the kind of reforms that we know can have a meaningful impact on the pervasive epidemic that is gun violence.

We are aware of gun violence. When not in our streets it is on our screens, America’s most predictable tragedy. This heightened awareness, raised by the wave of activism against gun violence that has swept over the country since the Parkland shooting, could too easily turn into numbness and complacency. It is imperative that we continue to feel each act of senseless violence, and work to prevent the next, moving past the month of June and carrying throughout the entire year.  

Jumaane D. Williams is a City Council member from Brooklyn and Eric Cumberbatch is the executive director of the Mayor's Office to Prevent Gun Violence. On Twitter @JumaaneWilliams and @NYCMayorsOffice.

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From Awareness to Action: Combating The Epidemic of Gun Violence Mon, 02 Jul 2018 20:03:29 +0000
The Urban Agenda Our Growing Cities Demand eric adams home conversions

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the author (photo via @BPEricAdams)

Communities like what we have in Brooklyn represent the future of the United States — vibrant places where people from around the world come to achieve their ambitions.

After many years in which many of our great cities declined in stature, young professionals and couples now want to build their careers and start families in urban America, and older adults want to enjoy their golden years in cities as well. I often say that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who live in Brooklyn and those who wish they could. The numbers bear that out: our borough now has its highest population in history, representing what would be the fourth-largest city in the country — standing apart from the rest of New York City — with more than 2.6 million residents and growing.

As every teenager experiences a few growing pains, the rapid growth of cities from coast to coast has created some challenges. Many families that have lived in Brooklyn for generations now fear that their income will not support a middle-class life, with rents in some neighborhoods increasing by double digit percentages every year. Our subway platforms have become a crush of elbows and shoulders as commuters struggle to pack themselves into trains during rush hour. And even as crime has declined in New York City, the safest big city in America, there are communities where violence is a persistent threat, where parents are afraid to let their children play outside and the sound of gunshots still punctuates the dark of night.

The Republican National Convention came to a close in Cleveland with nary a word on the fundamental concerns of cities. While the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia touched on some of these matters through the party platform, we need to ask — better yet, demand — that leaders in both parties go deeper in reflecting on the problems of cities and offering solutions that will allow this country to remain preeminent in an era of continued urbanization. The federal government has the capacity and the duty to step up with this critical assistance, and should do so in the following areas:

Every day, commuters living in the greatest city in the world enter subway stations that are more than a century old to crowd into trains that have been in service for decades, some since 1964. Most subway lines still lack countdown clocks. People riding city buses travel at an average rate of 7 MPH (about jogging speed). Our parkways resemble parking lots.

The federal government just adopted a five-year, $305 billion transportation plan known as the FAST Act. Unfortunately, this bill spends nearly 80 percent of its funds on roads with the remainder devoted to mass transit. This allocation fails to account for either the needs of urban commuters who depend on subways, buses, and ferries, or the declining percentage of people throughout the United States who travel by car. A more flexible program that allows individual states to focus their resources on the areas of greatest need would provide New York and other cities with additional resources to build modern mass transit systems.

The federal government must establish a long-term source of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund, which now remains in operation only as a result of gimmicks in the budget that will expire in a few years. Many mass transit projects require several years (or even decades) to complete. A guaranteed investment would eliminate the uncertainty that now exists, which prevents cities and states from developing regional transportation plans to prepare for the needs of future generations.

In addition, commuters should have more flexibility with their transit tax benefits, which allow for pre-tax payments for commuter rail, subway, buses, and parking. There are many people who drive their car to a subway station, then ride the train to work, or alternate on different days, and who should have the option of allocating their payments as desired. Commuters who travel by bicycle also deserve to have the full monthly benefit of the program ($250 rather than $20).

Affordable Housing
The rapid gentrification of New York City has contributed to an affordable housing crisis in which more than half of the families who rent their homes are considered “rent-burdened,” paying more than one-third of their income in rent. There are almost 60,000 people sleeping in homeless shelters each night in New York City — the most since the Great Depression — and many more families living in substandard apartments.

Yet most federal spending on housing primarily benefits high-income homeowners in suburban areas, with the mortgage interest deduction, the property tax deduction, and the partial exclusion of capital gains from the sale of a home. None of these investments are necessarily unwise, but the federal government should consider the two-thirds of New York City residents who rent their homes, the rising number of senior citizens with low to very low incomes, and the increasing number of young people who are renting nationwide. If we are serious about addressing homelessness and the societal challenges that rising housing costs pose to urban America, then Washington’s priorities need to reflect real reform.

It is well past time for the federal government to restore and expand funds to the critical Section 8 rental subsidy. In New York City, the program has not been accepting new applications since 2009, resulting in a scramble for those in need to benefit from the “recycling” of vouchers and forcing many participants to relocate to small apartments that often require a parent and child or unrelated members of a household to share a bedroom. Beyond Section 8 and Section 202 (designated for affordable senior housing), our city’s public housing residents depend on adequate funding to keep their developments maintained to a livable standard. The Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) initiative has allowed agencies like NYCHA to leverage their debt and equity for reinvestment in their capital renovations, and it will be up to the next administration to advance this forward.

Going further, we need to jumpstart efforts that would connect the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit to more households through the income averaging reform bill currently stalled in Congress, a measure that would bring needed flexibility to a housing market like New York City’s as well as vital financial resources to keep roofs over the heads of hard-working families without crippling rent burdens.

We also need a Justice Department that actively prosecutes housing discrimination, which has contributed to the crisis. This includes combating rampant tenant harassment by unscrupulous landlords looking to game the system. Some zoning regulations effectively prevent the development of affordable housing that would allow a diverse community to flourish, and the federal government should consider the disparate impact of these restrictions. DOJ should additionally work to prevent discrimination in mortgage lending — in which people of color are offered loans with higher interest rates — that has contributed to many foreclosures.

Gun Violence
The deadly consequences of gun violence continue to threaten families and children in Brooklyn. In neighborhoods such as Brownsville and East New York, homicides and other violent crimes are still disproportionately high. Other cities such as Baltimore and Chicago have, this year, experienced substantial increases in violent crime, which threatens the public safety.

The tide of violence has been swelled by a flood of illegal guns into New York City, which (with New York State), has some of the most restrictive laws in the nation, preventing individuals who present a threat to themselves or other people from owning handguns. Most of the guns used in violent crimes in New York City were purchased in other states and illegally trafficked here, through an “Iron Pipeline” that stretches from Georgia to Virginia and other states that allow gun sales even without identification. Chicago has a similar problem with guns sold in Indiana.

We need common sense reform that only the federal government can provide. Cities are depending on Congress to prohibit gun traffickers from buying large quantities of guns and ammunition to sell in our streets, as well as to institute universal background checks that would prevent criminals from entering the arms trade. Moreover, we need dedicated federal prosecutors who will work with local district attorneys and law enforcement agencies to end the epidemic of gun violence, as well as the ability for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require that guns include safety features to prevent accidents or unauthorized uses.

According to the most recent Census, more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, a figure that is continuing to climb upward. As the importance of cities grows, so does the need for a proper debate between leaders of the major political parties about the best way to address the challenges facing urban America and the possibilities that exist when the federal government works in cooperation with its municipal partners.

Eric L. Adams is Brooklyn Borough President. On Twitter @BPEricAdams.

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The Urban Agenda Our Growing Cities Demand Sun, 31 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
City to Open Gun Courts to Expedite Prosecutions bdb guns

A gun bust (photo: @NYCMayorsOffice)

In an effort to reduce gun violence and gun-related crimes, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says the city intends to create specialized “gun courts” in each of the five boroughs. Gun courts will expedite the handling of gun-related cases to more quickly identify and imprison those who use guns illegally.

The head of the Citizens Crime Commission, Richard Aborn, has been working on the initiative for several months, leading toward an upcoming announcement, Bratton said during a radio interview earlier this week. The collaboration between the CCC and Bratton has “involved the five district attorneys, two of the five are brand new, and Judge Lippman, before he stepped down from the bench,” Bratton explained Tuesday on WNYC.

“The Commissioner’s comments were a teaser...for a larger policy package from the City in coordination with every part of the criminal justice system to ensure that reducing gun violence is taken seriously at every stage,” Monica Klein, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

It appears the new gun courts pilot program will be launched in Brooklyn, though the ultimate goal is to create a gun court in every borough, where the district attorney can send gun-related cases to fast-track them. The specifics of the program will be officially announced within the next few weeks.

In a statement, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson said, “A dedicated judge will help us prosecute gun cases faster and more efficiently in Brooklyn. We are in discussions with court officials about setting up this specialized part and having it up and running in the coming weeks.”

Staten Island’s new District Attorney, Mike McMahon, “was not privy to any conversations the previous administration may have had regarding gun courts,” having only taken office several days ago, though he “has spoken this week with NYPD Commissioner Bratton to schedule a meeting to discuss gun courts, gun violence, and other issues,” Douglas Auer, director of communications for McMahon, told Gotham Gazette.

In 2015, shooting incidents declined overall, though murders were up slightly from 2014's record low, and killings committed by shooting were “up fairly dramatically,” Bratton said. Gun arrests increased by 10 percent from the previous year, and the NYPD seized a “record number of guns.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg created a pilot gun court program in Brooklyn in 2003, under then-DA Charles Hynes, which saw an increase in the amount of jail time defendants received, though the program was discontinued. Gun courts were first established in Providence, Rhode Island in 1994, and also exist in Philadelphia, Boston, and Birmingham, Alabama.

Similar to drug courts, gun courts streamline the processing of gun-related cases, allowing judges to focus attention on gun-related crimes, rather than mixing such cases in with various other offenses, such as murder or rape, which may make, for example, illegal possession of a firearm, seem like a less serious offense by comparison.

However, unlike drug courts, which largely redirect drug offenders to treatment programs rather than prison, gun courts often result in harsher punishments for those accused of gun-related crimes, though the main intent is to move gun-related offenses through the criminal justice system more swiftly and efficiently in order to get those who have committed gun-related crimes off the streets as quickly as possible.

New York’s new gun courts will work by employing “the precision model,” Bratton said, by “drilling down - instead of basically suspecting one million minority males and stopping them every year,” gun courts will allow law enforcement to “focus on understanding who it is within the community who are committing these crimes and focus attention on them.” In saying this, Bratton was referring, again, to the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics during the previous administration.

Bratton believes the system is “under-sentencing people involved in gun crimes,” and wants judges to “maximize the penalties” in cases of violent crime.

“Those several thousand people in the city who think nothing of taking out a gun and shooting another human being, they need to be treated with every ounce of the justice system that we can apply to them to basically get them off the streets and keep them away from the rest of us,” Bratton said on WNYC.

One advantage of creating gun courts could be that “putting a priority on prosecuting gun crimes will serve as a deterrent,” said Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “If people know that they’re going to be hit hard and fast with a conviction or charge,” it could discourage people from committing gun-related crimes.

New York does have strong gun laws, including a 3.5 year mandatory minimum for anyone caught carrying a loaded, illegal weapon. Yet with 90 percent of guns recovered from crimes in New York City originating from other states, such as Georgia and Virginia, there is only so much the city and state can do to keep guns from being used illegally.

To combat the flow of illegal guns into the city, New York law enforcement works to identify and break up gun trafficking rings - like the one that smuggled 112 guns into the city over the course of a year - but until federal action is taken to make it harder for those who intend to commit gun crimes to get guns, such efforts are simply putting a bandaid on a bullet wound.

“There’s no real federal statute that deals with this gun trafficking,” Brooklyn DA Thompson said, expressing frustration, during a press conference announcing the aforementioned gun bust in October, 2015..

“Two high profile police shootings involved guns that were traced back to Georgia...Until we have strong federal gun laws, we’re going to have this problem,” Barrett said.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has put forward an anti-gun trafficking bill (for the second time), which would elevate gun trafficking to a felony. “At the moment, it’s a misdemeanor - the same charge you get if you were trafficking a chicken,” Barrett said, “this is a problem that needs to be addressed at the federal level.”

On Tuesday, President Obama issued executive orders to help increase gun safety by expanding who is required to have a background check before purchasing a gun and tightening rules for reporting guns that are lost or stolen, among others. Though there is relatively little that can be done to make more stringent gun control a reality without action from Congress.

There is something that New York City and State can do to reduce gun-related crimes, Barrett says, since 10 percent of crime guns recovered by city law enforcement originate from New York.

“If the mayor and the police commissioner would publish the source of the crime guns, where these guns are coming from in New York State, that would be very valuable to know, because that would inform our advocacy,” Barrett said. If it turned out that a large number of those crime guns were stolen, for example, gun safety advocates would push for safe storage laws in New York.

“I do believe we have to put a lot of resources into dealing with the gun violence problem,” City Council Member Jumaane Williams told Gotham Gazette. “What worries me is that we seem to be very much law enforcement heavy as a resource, as opposed to other things that are needed to stop the systemic problem” of gun violence, such as reducing the “demand for violence” through programs like one led by the gun violence task force in the City Council, which Williams leads and provides services such as job training and legal, mental health, and mediation services in neighborhoods with higher rates of gun violence.

To Williams, “the main thing is that public safety can’t just be the domain of law enforcement. We need many agencies working together on this.” Efforts by law enforcement to address the systemic problem of gun violence “has to be part of the solution, but it can’t be something we hang our hat on,” he said.

Cracking down on those involved with gun-related crimes is generally viewed as a step in the right direction, though gun courts also raise concerns for some.

“The impulse is a good one - to target criminals who use guns and to incapacitate them if necessary,” Eugene O’Donnell, professor of law, political science, and criminal justice at John Jay College told Gotham Gazette. “However, in practice, there are many different situations where individuals are arrested for gun possession who are not hardened felons, and that has always been the rub.”

When Gotham Gazette reached out to the NYPD, the office of the deputy commissioner for public information said no one was available to comment. The Manhattan and Queens district attorney offices declined to comment, and a spokesperson for the Bronx district attorney said gun-related crimes are a concern for new DA Darcel Clark, but had no further comment. A representative for the Citizens Crime Commission told Gotham Gazette he could not say anything more about gun courts than what Bratton already revealed during his radio appearances before the official announcement.

by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette, @MegOConnor13

City to Open Gun Courts to Expedite Prosecutions Fri, 08 Jan 2016 04:31:26 +0000