Monday, September 19, 2011

"Stop the Shooting"

"Stop the shooting" - this was Reverend Al's message at the funeral of Denise Gay on Sunday, and in any discussion of the events of two weeks ago, this sentiment has to be front and center. Above is a public service announcement from Save Our Streets Crown Heights, who have been using the CeaseFire model (recently documented in the film "The Interrupters") to keep a particularly tough section of Crown Heights shooting-free for what is now nearly 90 days, even as gun violence continues to erupt nearby. There's been a lot of chatter about what can or should be done to respond to shootings, and this shooting in particular, but it's worth highlighting SOS Crown Heights, because what they're doing is working. 

A few thoughts that have been kicking around in relation to all of this:

- Gun control also works - the CHCA sent around this link in advance of their rally two weeks ago, and ILFA urges everyone to take the opportunity to make their voices heard about the need for sensible firearms policies. 

- There's no causal link between the Denise Gay shooting and Carnival, and while there were two incidents at the parade itself (neither fatal, thankfully), those arguing for the end of the event would do well to put the parade in perspective. Organizers should, of course, consult with the community and police to address concerns and make the event safe for revelers and  - as they are already doing - but it's worth remembering that the Columbus Day Parade was once plagued by threats of (and assumptions of, and stereotypes about) mafia violence, and that the St. Patrick's Day parade often generates dozens of arrests and violent incidents. This isn't to suggest that such violence is ever acceptable, of course, but rather to provide a reply to the essentializing suggestion that this parade is somehow different. Large groups of revelers are hard to control, and any festival of this size is a balancing act. Hopefully next year's event will get the balance right. (Local blogger Brooklyn Travel Addict had a nice post about this, as well as some beautiful photos from the parade  as a reminder of the joyful spectacle that 99% of attendees enjoyed peacefully). 

- The New York Post ran video of NYPD officers dancing with masqueraders at the parade, with a response from the NYPD stuffily suggesting that they'll be disciplining the officers. The Trinidadian Carnival tradition, from which the currently polyglot celebration is descended, has long had an anti-authoritarian bent, in which lines of class and power are flouted by masqueraders. Frankly, given how much tension some officers managed to generate, I'm of the opinion that a little participation amounts, in this case, to good policing. 

- With respect to policing, the NYPD's refusal to address serious issues that did come out of the Carnival weekend is getting, after two weeks, more than a little ridiculous, whether it's their insistence that Jumaane Williams was "detained" because someone nearby had punched an officer (a completely nonsensical reaction even if this had happened, and video shows no evidence of it) or their unwillingness to admit that it was most likely a police bullet that killed Denise Gay (with spokespeople clinging instead to a story that unidentified witnesses may have seen the first victim with a gun, even though he didn't use it to protect himself, it doesn't appear on the security video, and the gun was never found, despite the fact that he made it barely 20 yards before collapsing). The first is ass-covering of the basest sort, but the second is equally troubling. Surely no one is going to fault officers for shooting at a man who had just stepped out of his house, murdered someone, and then started firing at police, but even given these extreme circumstances, the NYPD seems afraid of the reaction they might face if they admitted that one of the 73 bullets they fired killed a bystander. Why? It starts with the 73 bullets, an enormous number to spray around a residential street on a hot summer evening. Without faulting the individual officers in the moment, we might begin to question their firepower (semi-automatic pistols), their youth, their training, and the war-zone mentality they bring into neighborhoods like Crown Heights in the context of "zero tolerance" policing and crowd control. These are hard but important questions, questions in which the NYPD would be important interlocutors (Ray Kelly once opposed semi-automatic service weapons), but it would appear that they don't want them raised at all. It's not surprising, but it's frustrating. 

- Finally, I thought the Wall Street Journal's Sumathi Reddy wrote a smart piece contextualizing the events of two weeks ago within our changing neighborhood, a topic that guest blogger Andie Park has also covered recently. Reddy's piece covers different perspectives on policing and power on Franklin, while Park's quotes Assemblyman Jeffries, who noted at the Crow Hill rally that our societal tendency to expend more time and money putting young people from Crown Heights and similar neighborhoods through the criminal justice system than through school is in serious need of rethinking. Agreed - and part of that project is to stop the shooting.  


  1. I'm glad that there were so many police in the neighborhood for parade duty. Without them around, Mr. Webster could have continued to fire at Mr. Johnson and his two acquaintances as they fled down the block.

    I fear that these actions would have caused far more injury and death than the police officers' response. As a result, I find it hard to actually care whose bullet killed Ms. Gay. Her death was tragic no matter whose gun the bullet came from.

    Even under the controlled conditions of a gun range, (where I am calm, focused, not afraid of someone shooting back at me, and wearing ear protection)I have found pistols to be very inaccurate and incredibly loud.

    When a person fires a gun in the "uncontrolled" conditions of NYC city, he/she often unleashes a chain of events that results in themselves or bystanders being killed or injured. This is true whether the person firing that first shot is a police officer, a 12 year old who found a gun and is showing it to his friend, a store keeper, or a criminal.

    Yes, Rev Al, thank you for imploring us to stop shooting each other.

    Yes, Rev Al, thank you for seeing that NYC's police, general population and criminals have become far less violent than they once were, and that far fewer bystanders are killed than once were.

    Yes, everyone, we have a long haul ahead of us if we are going to maintain these successes. We have a failing economy, huge rates of unemployment among high-risk males, an inability to effectively impose taxes on the wealthy or anyone else, ineffective gun laws, the smallest police force we have had in decades, a broken criminal justice system and broken families.....

    Ready or not, it may get worse again.

  2. Thank you ILFA for an incredibly well written, nuanced and articulate summation of a variety of topics as well as the provided links.

    Mike, please run for something. You have my vote.

  3. 2:15 I would love to run for something, and I thank you for your vote. However, I doubt I would have the patience to represent a public that simultaneously wants a police force strong enough to combat crime, yet feels the urge to assign blame if a bystander is tragically killed.

    Policing is a job in which mistakes should be minimized, but in which mistakes will always be made. In such situations, there are situations in which no one can be held accountable.

    This is one such situation.

    I wish it were different.

    If it were different, I think I would make a good mayor.

  4. Thanks, as always a well written piece. But please be mindful that as the victim's family lives in the neighborhood, they could read this piece. Your comment "...yet feels the urge to assign blame if a bystander is tragically killed", is a little insensitive. Of course mistakes happen, but it's not so easy to say that to the victim's family.

  5. 4:14-

    In addition to protecting the family, we have the psychological states of eight police officers to protect.

    Yes, the family of Ms. Gay is in the process of trying to make sense of their loss and I suspect they will be for the rest of their lives.

    No matter what my emotional state, I have found that the quicker I am told that there is no one to blame, the quicker I heal. ...the less likely I am to lash out or become "stuck in place".

    As a result, I would have no problem stating to them that their loss simply makes no sense.

    Would such advice work best for THEM, at this time? I have no idea.

    But, I am glad Rev Al saw this for what it was, and (so far) has had the intelligence to view Ms. Gay's death as being a tragic accident.

    If anyone should bear the responsibility for the death of Ms. Gay, it should be Mr. Webster. As much as I wish that all 73 bullets had hit him, I continue to believe that the responding police did the best they could.

    I continue to believe that I would make an excellent mayor under different circumstances.

    While I will not be running for mayor in 2012, I hope you vote for someone like myself. I hope that you realize that our mayors, police officers and Reverends are subject to errors.

    I you will join me in telling people that there are situations in which death happens that make no sense, and are merely tragic.

  6. I (HOPE) you will join me in telling people that there are situations in which death happens that make no sense, and are merely tragic.

  7. Mike F (assuming your comments were directed at the original post), there's a big difference between assigning blame and talking strategically about policing. No one's faulting the officers, and no one's saying that police shouldn't respond when someone walks out of their house blasting away. I'm completely in agreement that Ms. Gay's death was a tragic accident (and I'm actually on record to the WSJ in that article saying as much, if you think I'm just covering my own ass here).

    That said, Commissioner Kelly expressed concerns about automatic weapons back in 1993 ( when they were phased in, specifically their use in "crowded urban settings" and the likelihood that officers using them would fire more rounds than they otherwise would. This strikes me as a relevant and ongoing conversation. It doesn't bring Ms. Gay back or absolve Mr. Webster for initiating the shootout, but assuming that this is not the last time the NYPD will draw their weapons, it's not useless, either.

    Also, your personal experience with handguns notwithstanding, I expect public servants with the responsibility of using deadly force to undergo sufficient training to shoot relatively accurately. That doesn't mean accidents won't happen, but "handguns are hard to use" is a terrible explanation for the death of innocent bystanders.

    Again, not blaming the cops for Ms. Gay's death, merely noting that this is not the first time a huge amount of bullets have been fired in a neighborhood like Crown Heights, and it probably won't be the last. A considered discussion of the costs and benefits of that sort of firepower isn't laying blame, it's thinking critically.

    PS - The L Magazine's Mark Asch made this exact same argument two weeks ago ( He's not the only one, but he was the first that I saw, so credit where credit's due.

  8. You are correct in that we have no reason to ever expect that this will be the last such incident, but I see no reason the police should be forced to carry revolvers.

    Sadly, they must match the fire power of their opponents. I wish they didn't have to be.

    I also wish you'd pick a random cop, befriend him/her and ask how accurate they were at shooting their service weapon at 25, 50, and 75 yards. For fun, ask one with some rank.

    I don't like that the police and criminals are in an arms race.

    I don't like that criminals are in an arms race with other criminals.

  9. I don't like that pistols are so hard to hit a target with.

  10. psst, here's some data:

  11. Whoa Mike. I posted a comment at 4:14 yesterday, to which you responded. I have close family members who are cops, so I am not one to arbitrarily point a finger at PO's in these situations. However, I have the absolute right to expect them to take care when pulling out a weapon. Even when their is a weapon pointed at them. They are trained to do so. Yes, officers are humans first. But situations like this need to be investigated.

  12. I think you are confusing whether we have the right to expect them to use care when pulling out their weapon, vs whether we have the right to expect that Police won't kill a bystander over the next year.

    The former is appropriate, the latter is not.

    Please read the report I link. It cites the NYPD accuracy when in combat situations.

    When the pistol becomes an accurate weapon, and cops become immune to the surrounding conditions we will have less bystander deaths. Until then, I use much caution before I label any death as being indictative of disregard for life, or recklessness.

    Percent of shots that hit the target when fired by police in combat situations ...see the report.

    The rest of those bullets are going to go somewhere, and the problem has gotten attention for decades.

    It will continue to get attention as the problem persists.
    ....don't worry, the NYPD is still more accurate than criminals. But those bulletts go somewhere too.

  13. these comments are whack. could one person figure out how to leave one comment?