By Rich Bockmann
Critics and supporters of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program are looking at a recent wave of gun violence, including a deadly assault in southeast Queens with an AK-47, and coming up with differing interpretations.
In the early morning hours of July 7, three men were gunned down near Springfield Gardens High School in a barrage of more than 50 shots fired from an assault rifle, police said. The following day, a 3-year-old boy was shot in his leg in Brooklyn, bringing the number of the city’s gunshot victims that week to 77.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly recently pointed to these incidents to justify stop-and-frisk, but City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) said they serve as an example of a failed policy.
Sanders levied his criticism in response to remarks Kelly made July 10, two days after young Isaiah Gonzalez was shot in Brooklyn.
Kelly criticized community leaders who he said are too willing to speak out against stop-and-frisk, “but are really, I think, shockingly silent when it comes to the level of violence right in their own communities.”
Sanders had actually held a press conference the day before in Springfield Gardens, decrying the violence and advocating for other policies — such as stricter gun laws and gun buy-backs — as effective alternatives to stop-and-frisk.
“I’m puzzled by the commissioner’s bizarre statements today and cannot help but wonder if he is paying attention to what people are actually saying about stop-and-frisk,” Sanders said. “Even as the commissioner was making this unfortunate, one-size-fits-all statement, I was in Springfield Gardens at the site of a tragic shooting over the weekend, calling for greater community involvement and cooperation in policing and standing shoulder to shoulder with my neighbors to decry the violence on our streets.”
Sanders said a gun buy-back he hosted in 2009 took about 900 guns off the streets in a matter of hours, more than the approximately 770 firearms stop-and-frisk netted last year citywide.
“Commissioner Kelly seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth — asking why there is no outrage over existing gun violence and then championing a policy that has failed to prevent it,” he said. “Put simply, if stop-and-frisk was working, gun violence would be going down, not up. Our communities would be safer, not more dangerous. And people would feel more willing to engage their local precincts in community action against violent criminals, not afraid for their own civil liberties when approached by police.”
Speaking at the Greater Allen AME Church Sunday, Bloomberg said stop-and-frisk was part of a larger approach to reducing crime, one that includes advocating for stricter gun laws and focusing on youth development in lieu of incarceration.
“Now, it’s fair to say that the city has taken a more comprehensive approach to cutting crime and taking guns off the street than any other city. But the fact remains, as I said before, there still are 3-year-olds getting shot,” he said. “There still are AK-47s on the street. Just a few miles down the road from this church, an AK-47 was used to kill three people last week — in a hail of 63 bullets.”
“And so if we want to save more lives, we have to do more,” the mayor continued. “And that’s why, in addition to everything else we are doing, police officers stop and question those who are suspected of criminal activity — and frisk those who are suspected of carrying a weapon.”
About 86 percent of those stopped last year were either black or Latino, and Bloomberg said effective policing should not equate to racial profiling, adding Kelly had re-issued an order banning it.
Sanders, though, said a recent meeting with a local precinct commander left him with the impression that the NYPD was continuing to go “full steam ahead” with stop-and-frisk.
“Much of this is being done with a wink and a nod,” he said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.