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Shootings and Homicides Persist in Harlem Even as Other Crimes Fall

By Jeff Mays | September 8, 2011 7:26am
People look on as police investigate a shooting outside the J. Rozier Hansborough Recreation Center on 135th Street in Central Harlem on Monday, April 11, 2011.
People look on as police investigate a shooting outside the J. Rozier Hansborough Recreation Center on 135th Street in Central Harlem on Monday, April 11, 2011.
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DNAinfo/David Torres

HARLEM—All three areas of Harlem rank in the top 10 of overall safety in Manhattan, besting neighborhoods such as Gramercy Park, Chelsea and Greenwich Village, according DNAinfo.com's new  Crime & Safety Report.

However, Harlem continues to struggle with major crimes such as shootings, robbery and homicide, indicating a neighborhood still in transition.

When it comes to overall safety among the 17 Manhattan neighborhoods, West, East and Central Harlem all placed in the top 10. West Harlem, Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill was ranked sixth in overall safety, East Harlem came in eighth and Central Harlem tenth.

West Harlem ranked as fifth safest in terms of property crimes out of 69 neighborhoods citywide. East Harlem ranked 13th safest citywide when it comes to burglary.

All three Harlem areas are in the top 10 safest areas for burglary and property crimes in Manhattan. In fact, West Harlem was ranked as Manhattan's safest neighborhood when it came to property crimes. East Harlem was listed as fourth.

"I tell people to do your homework but don't let the sensational stories scare you off. It's a great neighborhood," said Brad Taylor, vice chair of Community Board 9 and a board member and former president of Friends of Morningside Park.

But Harlem's three distinct areas rank in the bottom four when it comes to violent crimes, the bottom three for homicides and the bottom three for shootings.

Even as new restaurants open, new condos rise and new people move to the neighborhood, it is the shootings that have area residents frightened.

"I'm glad property crimes are lower but it's another thing to see a gun pointed in the vincinity of you and your child," said Melissa Chu who was in Morningside Park's 116th Street playground on June 30 when a gunman across the street pulled out a gun and shot another man.

When it comes to shootings, East Harlem ranks 66th safest out of 69 neighborhoods citywide. Central Harlem was ranked 60th safest and West Harlem, Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill was ranked 46th safest.

"I don't want to portray Harlem as a terrible place. I generally feel safe here, but the guns are a problem," Chu said.

Jackie Rowe-Adams, co-founder of Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E. (Stop Another Violent End), said people are not as fearful of being the target of a shooting themselves as being struck by a stray bullet.

"People are scared. It's like gentrification is starting to reverse. I know people who have invested in Harlem who are talking about moving," said Rowe Adams.
"What I'm seeing is kids shooting just to shoot. They want a reputation. They want to put it on Facebook. They want to laugh at something that is not funny."
East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito says it is the shootings that have alarmed her constituents.

"You talk to the average person on the street and they are saying that the number of shootings are on the rise. People are feeling more threatened now than they have in a long time," said Mark-Viverito.

Chu and Rowe-Adams said they are encouraged by the response to the violence. Mark-Viverito launched the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force to allow young people to brainstorm ways to stop the violence plaguing them.

Rowe-Adams said the response from residents and the business community is much better than in the past.

"I've never heard so many conversations about violence. It's good that so many people are paying attention. Even the business community that used to turn its head is now involved," said Rowe-Adams.

Chu, who moved to New York from California, said she and her husband are determined to stay. She has begun interacting with groups seeking to reach the young people who are believed to be doing most of the shooting.

Since residents banded together to ask for help with the problems at Morningside Park, Chu said she has noticed more of a police presence.

"Once you get involved you see that a lot of people are working to stop the violence in this community and that makes you feel good," said Chu. "In order to stay here, I have to do something."