"There is a state of emergency in the urban community," determined Andre Mitchell, founder and CEO of Man Up Inc. "The government's $800 billion stimulus package has yet to land in the inner cities. It has not trickled down. That $800 billion means nothing if the right organizations cannot benefit from that money."
Frontline anti–youth violence activists have yet to enthusiastically embrace the announcement of a $4 million stimulus package, of sorts, aimed at decreasing "illegal guns and gang violence that plague communities across the state of New York." The State Senate has announced a new initiative, Operation SNUG, that is slated to help local law enforcement and anti-violence community groups "engage innovative tactics to steer at-risk New Yorkers away from the culture of gangs and illegal guns."
According to a statement from the office of State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, "The Senate secured $4 million in the FY2009–10 state budget for frontline anti–gun and gang violence prevention efforts that will benefit the hardest-hit communities across the state. As a result, the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, New York City and Westchester County will receive new infusions of much-needed funding that will allow for better cooperation between police and prosecutors to keep our children safe and streets secure."
States Councilman Charles Barron, "This $4 million is chump change...It can't really even cover a couple of blocks in our neighborhood; it is a citywide problem. If it was any other problem that was affecting white communities, they would be putting tens of millions of dollars into it, not a measly $4 million. Job creation and economic development is part of resolving the violence.''
He continues, ''Grassroots organizations run by people like A.T. Mitchell and Erica Ford should be given the multi-million-dollar funds because they've proven they can do the work and have been doing so effectively— now give them millions so they can continue and reach more young people and really stop the violence."
East New York activist Andre Mitchell went on: "If they allocate money in the 2009 budget, the organizations do not receive the money until 2010,maybe 2011.There is so much red tape that you have to go through that it becomes almost null and void by the time the money clears. What needs to happen is an emergency fund from the private sector and regular people who can donate whatever they can."
Erica Ford, founder and CEO of Life Camp Inc. says, "The $4 million from the Senate is a wonderful initiative, but Governor Paterson and Senator Malcolm Smith must also identify alternative funds to supplement monies for street workers to diffuse conflicts."
Ford said that with only $500,000 designated to each targeted "high crime" area, "these companies who do business in our communities have to reinvest in these communities to lower the crime rate. Corporations like WalMart, Sunoco, Pepsi and Dunkin Donuts should supplement the money because the government funds take so long to come down the pipeline."
In the interim, Ford suggested, "They should not give any of this money to the big companies, like Boys and Girls and the Catholic Charities, who do not serve these particular children. Give to the community-based organizations who don't have the money, but have been doing the work. When someone gets killed, the family doesn't call the Boys and Girls Club. They call us," said the creator of the I Love My Life campaign and the Bury Da Beef tour.
"We are building an emergency response team, and we are building a network of professionals so families can call on them, before you call ACS. The same way there is an aggressive media and government onslaught to the swine flu, the same energy and exposure must be put into this gun violence epidemic in our community."
Early morning May 18, wheelchair-bound Stephen Gowins, 39, was shot in the head on
in East New York. His wife was with him when a young man reportedly ran up and fired the shots. He has not been apprehended. Gowins died at the scene.
"It was cold-blooded," said Mitchell. "This is what we are dealing with. We are in a state of emergency. "If you really want to help the hood, just do it. They try and distract us by saying they will fund a program or an organization, but if you really want to help us, don't tell us you're going to give us money from your budget—cut us a check from your personal account: Those checks clear much faster."
Mitchell suggested that prominent elected leaders like Paterson, Smith and Mayor Michael Bloomberg "need to walk the streets of East New York, Brownsville and the South Bronx and look into the eyes of the people and see how bad they are doing. How many more young people have to die before something serious is done?"
Paterson said, "The Senate's initiative recognizes the importance of fighting gun crime through a comprehensive and unified effort. I am pleased that we were able to provide additional funding for Operation IMPACT in this year's budget as well as support Operation SNUG." "Organizations like Man Up and Life Camp are out there on the frontline with little or no resources. It is devastating," said Mitchell. "We cannot be effective without a full-fledged commitment from these community leaders and electeds giving us the necessary funding and services we need to continue."
Smith assured that the $4 million anti-violence funding will be evenly distributed through a "competitive" grants process.
Smith said, "Gun violence affects us all—white or Black, rich or poor. Illegal guns terrorize neighborhoods and tear apart families. For too long, the deadly specter of illegal guns has gone unchecked. In cities across the state, our children are dying at the hands of gun violence, but through our commitment to SNUG, we can put a stop to that deadly trend now and return our streets to their rightful owners, the people of New York."
Smith added, "30,000 people will likely die this year as a result of gun violence, and many of them will be young people. Operation SNUG will provide the support that our local anti-violence programs need and will help us save lives."
Mitchell added that the onus to find a solution rests with everybody. "We're also seeking individual and private funding from corporations and businesses and other money-generating enterprises that benefit from the spending habits of those in the inner cities." According to NYPD Comp-Stat crime figures, there has been at least 138 people murdered in New York City this year.
According to Terrie M. Williams, author of "Black Pain: It Just Looks like We're Not Hurting," "There is over-whelming evidence of the connection between unmet mental health needs, particularly during adolescence, and Black-on-Black crime, substance abuse, suicides, incarceration, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, poverty, poor health and unrealized potential in academic and occupational pursuits. Until we name our pain and address this crisis in the Black community, we will continue to die every day, and the dreams of too many of us will continue to be deferred. The most revolutionary thing we can do is to love each other and share our stories with each other. Healing starts with us."
In a joint statement, LIFE Camp Inc. members Syreeta Gates, Ronald Merritt and Tara Delaine said, "We can't stand to attend any more funerals. It seems as if the only time people come together in full force is to pay respect to the dead. Start paying respect to the living! We are not only losing our peers to violence, but to the prison system. We are drop- ping out of schools and other things that would deter us from being successful individuals and leaders. We need the help of the entire community."
Young people are in the streets because "we have no places to go," said the LIFE Camp members. "We see new developments being built all the time in our communities, and there isn't ANYTHING for us. There are multiple senior centers, Laundromats, fast food restaurants, pharmacies and there is no single space for teens to go and participate in activities that we want to engage in that will assist us with our growth." Meanwhile, Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg recently announced that the city will use $29.02 million in funding from the stimulus package to support 17,378 slots for summer youth employment programs, summer internships and similar programs. The funds will enhance the New York City Summer Youth Employment Program, a seven-week job program for New York City youth between the ages of 14 and 24.This will provide jobs for more than 51,000 young people in New York City's Summer Youth Employment Program—8,000 more than in 2008.
State Senator Bill Perkins said that while he and his colleagues were able to make the Senate cough up "$4 million, it is more than funding. It is also about parenting, teaching our children that they are valuable and should value the lives of others. It's about ending the corporate culture that has commercialized violence and promotes vulgar and violent behavior to the exclusion of other messages that could provide some balance."
Perkins praised the commitment of "Reverend Al Taylor, who heads Man Up a group of men from the community who walk the Polo Grounds Housing Development, Reverend Vernon Williams and Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid and the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, who are faithfully leading daily efforts to secure our neighborhoods and already answering the call. Others have to join them."