As politicians at all levels try to combat gun violence through legislation, local groups seeing issues within their communities have taken a grassroots approach to keeping neighborhoods safe.
“Upon my release from prison, I wanted to make sure today’s youth didn’t fall into the same traps that I fell into,” said Lance Feurtado.
He and his brother co-founded the King of Kings, an anti-violence group in southeast Queens. They started the group in 2005, a year after Feurtado was released from prison. Their main goal is to reduce shootings and killings.
Feurtado set his sights on the Redfern Community Houses in Far Rockaway. After a shooting in broad daylight took place there, he hit the ground running.
King of Kings also goes on anti-drug and anti-gang tours to educate young people about the consequences of a violent lifestyle, the hidden dangers of drugs and what to do if you are pulled over by police.
I am “a former drug kingpin. I’m an ex-gang member,” Feurtado said. “We can relate first-hand to what the youth are going through. We lived it, we survived it.”
Feurtado also hosts a series of community events such as an annual “Friends for Life” breakfast.
Reverend Phil Craig is another activist active in the borough. The president of the Queens chapter of the National Action Network hosts youth town halls about violence in the community.
“The children, you can tell they’re dealing with a tug-and-pull situation,” he said. “A lot of their friends are attracted to this violent type of lifestyle. It makes them feel important.”
Craig and others in the chapter work to instill a different type of importance in young people—one where they can see themselves being successful off the streets.
“They can make a difference,” Craig said. “Negativity is contagious, but if we can change it around, the positive could become contagious.”
Craig said a big part of reducing violence among youths is getting parents involved and establishing a balanced household structure—something he said many homes in his area lack.
“There’s a gap they can’t fill at home, and these kids are out running around in the streets to try and fill it,” he said.
Out there, young people get territorial, said Manny Fiallo, the outreach coordinator for the Police Athletic League (PAL) in Far Rockaway. Fiallo is also a parent coordinator at the Department of Education (DOE).
“Kids feel like they can’t go to certain places,” he said. “But it’s one peninsula, it’s one Rockaway.”
Last year, Fiallo worked to put on a basketball tournament in memory of Stack Bundles, a local rapper who he said youths respect. The event was so successful that Fiallo is hosting it again and hopes to make it an annual event. The tournament travels throughout the peninsula. Fiallo said it helps break barriers by putting participants in areas they may not usually travel to.
“It involves the whole community, it’s about the whole community,” he said.
Aside from the tournament, Fiallo’s group has hosted teen job fairs and is trying to get a GED program expanded to accommodate 23- to 28-year-olds.
On summer weekends, Craig and the National Action Network occupy corners and try to get young people off the streets.
“One of the things I’ve observed, at 1 a.m., you have kids walking in the streets in packs. They can’t be more than 13 or 14 years old,” he said.
Organizations like Craig’s are trying to stop the violence once and for all.
“When people know each other, there’s less of a tendency [toward] tension” in the community, Feurtado said.
-BY MAGGIE HAYES & TERENCE M. CULLEN