LONG ISLAND CITY — Queens politicians and community leaders gathered in Queensbridge Thursday to call for an end to gun violence in the city and neighborhood, where a 27-year-old Manhattan man and aspiring hip-hop artist was shot and killed last Saturday.
The victim, 27-year-old Francisco Leal, lived on the Upper West Side but grew up in the nearby Queensbridge Houses. He'd returned to visit his old neighborhood, reports said, when he was approached by two men while leaving a liquor store near 21st Street and 41st Avenue, one of whom shot him fatally in the chest.
The number of shootings and shooting victims is up 10 percent in the city so far this year compared to last, with 86 incidents compared to 78 through Jan. 27. Murder, however, is down more than 20 percent.
The NYPD released video footage of one suspect but are still looking for information from possible witnesses, according to City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
"They believe it should be relatively easy to find the people who did this, but we need someone to say something, we need someone to come forward with some information," Van Bramer said during a press conference at the scene of the shooting on Thursday.
Those in attendance distributed police posters with Leal's image on them.
"Someone out here saw that young man get killed," said April Simpson, president of the Queensbridge Houses' Residents Association.
"The police are doing their job, we need to do our job right here on the ground floor," she said. "We can't protect our children if we’re sitting around not saying anything."
Across the street from where Leal was killed, a group of his friends erected a makeshift memorial in front of an abandoned lot. They lit candles and penned message for "Trax," Leal's stage name; he was an aspiring hip-hop artist, they said.
"A good dude, good spirit, loved to laugh, loved to have fun, loved his music," said Suga Ray, a spoken word poet who also goes by his stage name. He grew up with Leal in the public housing complex and knew him for more than 20 years.
"He loved people, loved his hood and loved his community. All he wanted was a better life for himself, his family and his friends."
The group called for better social programs to keep young people off the streets, more jobs in low-income neighborhoods and better regulations for handguns, including micro stamping bullet casings so they can be traced more easily.
Among those in attendance was was Taylonn Murphy, who lost his daughter, Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy when she was shot and killed in Harlem outside her home at the Grant Houses in 2011, just 18 and a rising star basketball player.
Her father has since become an anti-violence advocate. Tayshana had grown up in the Queensbridge Houses when she was young, he said, adding that every new gun death in the city opens up old wounds.
"Every time I come to one of these press conferences, it hurts me," he said.