HARLEM—Despite the city's record low crime numbers, minority communities in Harlem and Upper Manhattan are disproportionately feeling the impact of violence, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Wednesday at a New York Urban League-sponsored dialogue on public safety.
African-Americans make up 25 percent of the city's population, but compose 67 percent of murder victims and 74 percent of shooting victims, said Kelly. And although the population of African-American men ages 15 to 29 is just 2 percent of the city's population, they make up 33 percent of its murder victims.
"New York City is the safest big city in America but it must be safe for all of our citizens, on every block," Kelly said.
Gathered at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Kelly, along with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Harlem Children's Zone CEO Geoffrey Canada, called for an increase in community involvement to solve the stubborn violence plaguing Harlem and Upper Manhattan.
They also pushed for a new level of cooperation between law enforcement and those being disproportionately affected by crime.
"We must create the public will to invest in black and brown children the way we invest in Wall Street," said Arva Rice, president and CEO of the New York Urban League.
To address the disparity in violent crimes, particularly murder, among young people, Kelly said he has promoted Lt. Kevin O'Connor, formerly head of Manhattan North’s gang intelligence unit, to be the assistant commissioner for the newly-created Juvenile Justice Division of the NYPD.
During his time with the gang intelligence unit, O'Connor helped to identify more than 40 gang crews — or smaller, less organized groups than established gangs — that have caused havoc uptown. Last year, 35 percent of the non-fatal shootings in Upper Manhattan was done by members of these crews.
Vance said his office is focusing on these crews. The DA is currently prosecuting alleged members of "2 Mafia Family," also known as 2MF, and "Goons on Deck," crews which operated in the area of Lenox Avenue and 137th Street. They say the crews used girls, including former prep student Afrika Owes, who is currently incarcerated as part of a plea deal, as well as some adolescents to transport the crew's weapons.
Vance said the pending case against a group that allegedly ran a drug ring out of a furniture store on Lenox Avenue and West 132nd Street would not have come to the DA's attention without tips from the community, Vance said. It's proof that "engagement of the community is effective in crime prevention strategies," he added.
Rhea said that the housing authority is introducing a pilot program that would allow those with felony records to return to public housing. Felons have been barred from living there for a period of time following their conviction.
"If they can't come back home where will they go?" said Rhea. "The recidivism rate is 9 times higher if they don't have stable housing in the first few months after release."
Canada said one of the main issues is dealing with the commonly-held opinion that no one is doing anything to address the violence, which is untrue. Adults need to make it clear to children and teens that violence is not normal.
"We are going to treat every incident as something that cannot be tolerated," said Canada.
"When kids think I can shoot that person and nobody is going to do anything because everybody is scared, that's a bad message," he added.
Teenagers participating in the event said adults should consult them on ways to work with young people while panelists called on more parental involvement and less talk and more actions from group's dedicated to dealing with the issue.
"How do we begin empowering a segment of our community that feels ignored, that feels talked about but not talked with?" said Rev. Michael Walrond Jr. of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem.
"What will make this forum different is if they follow through," she said. "The proof is in the pudding."