Saturday, April 10, 2010

There Was a Guy Shooting People from a Rooftop?!

That's the question you got if you lived in Crown Heights this week, right after the one about "did you ever go into any of the stores that were involved in that massive drug bust on Nostrand?" It was a bad week for a blogger to be traveling for work, that's for sure, but an even worse one for the general reputation of the area, which has enjoyed some positive attention over the last year on account of community and business efforts to promote it. Now, just as the NYPD release the latest statistics showing a significant bounce in crime over the past three months, the neighborhood once known as "Crime Heights" has suffered a trio of newsmaking events (the face slashings, the busts, and the wannabe sniper) that have vaulted it back into the anti-pantheon of NYC's most dangerous places.

I wasn't around to report on any of these events, and since the drug bust was hailed as a success by officials ranging from Tish James to Commissioner Kelly (as well as by the many residents who reportedly alerted the DA and NYPD about the dealing) and also can be taken as evidence that the neighborhood is getting increased attention from those in power, I'll stick to editorializing about violent youth, in two acts.

Act I (in which the bystander recoils in horror when they realize that someone who isn't old enough to drive is raining death down from a rooftop): Incidents like this demand a coordinated anti-gun policy that includes serious gun control. To our mayor's credit, he's done some of his best work on this issue, founding Mayors Against Illegal Guns and taking a beating that may have damaged his dreams of higher office on account of his aggressive pursuit of safer streets. This means creating meaningful carrots and sticks that encourage youth (and everyone else) to hand over guns and information about gun trafficking but make possession and illegal sales of firearms serious offenses. Beyond this, it means a coordinated federal strategy that repeals the Tiahrt Amendments and allows law enforcement to track and prevent the movement of guns from shows and rural areas (where they can be purchased cheaply and easily) into cities and crime rings. Note to the NRA: you can keep your guns--just stop selling them to underage gang members. If you think this somehow threatens your liberty, well, I defer to the great Barney Frank (I know he wasn't talking about guns, but the general sentiment, as well as the excellent delivery, holds true).

Act II (in which the bystander, having recovered from his shock, realizes that the victims are laughing and that the students milling about are both a nuisance and, occasionally, a threat): The more serious posters on Brooklynian have been having an excellent debate about the kinds of things that lead to youthful nihilism among underserved populations--lack of opportunity/perceived opportunity, wretched home lives, and contempt for authority stemming from inequitable treatment of the kind Bob Herbert has been writing about--and I won't reproduce them here. What I will do is advocate for increased after-school programming, and more forcefully, longer school days. They may cost more in the short term, yes (though KIPP and other charter schools are doing it around the nation with the same funding that public schools receive), but if you don't want "kids on the street," don't dump them onto the street between 2pm and 3pm every day without much to do. After-school programs, particularly active ones involving sport and other healthy competition (where would-be gang-members can compete, burn off their energy, strut their stuff, and be aggressive without killing anybody) are the first to go as school budgets are cut in lean times, and the ensuing uptick in juvenile crime isn't unrelated. In the best of times, these programs help close the circle: not only should we do our best to keep guns out of the hands of kids, but we should give their hands something else to do.


  1. Totally agree with every point made!

  2. Good point, Nick.
    If you don't want troublesome youth, give them the attention they need. Sports, chess, whatever. Children only know what they are taught so what would you expect if you ignore them.