By Jon Schuppe
EAST HARLEM — A team of community leaders trying to help solve an uptick in violent crime has found a common complaint among kids: they don’t have enough alternatives to the streets.
The East Harlem/El Barrio Youth Violence Task Force was formed during a rise in shootings last summer and has been meeting with kids at East Harlem housing projects, where gang feuds have many afraid of venturing beyond their immediate neighborhoods.
At James Weldon Johnson Houses, teenagers griped that a long-promised community center had yet to open. At Taft Houses, youths told the group that their last basketball court had been turned into a parking lot.
The task force, led by City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, doesn’t want to become another in a long list of well-meaning coalitions that outline problems and disappear. It wants solutions. Members are lobbying housing officials to expand recreational outlets at Johnson and Taft, and planning to do more of the same as they hear of problems in the rest of East Harlem’s public housing developments.
Other similar-minded coalitions are popping up in other parts of Upper Manhattan, including a clergy-based effort in Central Harlem and two in Washington Heights formed this week by elected officials.
The East Harlem group is planning town-hall-style meetings in areas afflicted by the worst violence. The first will be held some time next month in the southernmost part of the neighborhood, where officials attribute much of the violence to turf battles among youth crews.
Eventually, members want to start a series of workshops, training events and "speak outs" for young people. The goal is to shift the focus from blaming young people to helping them solve the problem.
"This isn't just putting more cops on the street. This is a wider-themed goal," said Elsie Encarnacion, a youth outreach work on Mark-Viverito’s staff. "And we need everyone on board."