Anti-gun task force focuses on S. Jamaica

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

If gun violence is a disease, then South Jamaica’s 113th Precinct is experiencing a public health crisis, and a citywide task force has a plan to treat it as such.

In 2011, the City Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence began investigating the causes — and solutions for — shooting incidents and found the 113th had the highest number of shooting incidents, homicides and gun arrests in Queens in 2011.

NYPD data shows that, citywide, homicide victims and suspects were young, black men with prior criminal records and the leading cause was either due to a dispute or revenge.

“The task force members said that many youth in these communities were never taught ways to deal with conflict without violence,” the group’s report, released last month, concluded. “The task force members felt that this inability to peacefully resolve conflict is a major contributing factor to gun violence. In fact, data on homicides in New York City in 2011 showed that the leading reason for homicides was conflict or revenge.”

Finding that shootings are concentrated in specific areas, the task force recommended implementing pilot programs in each borough that will use a model developed in Chicago to confront the problem in a comprehensive way.

Task force member Erica Ford, founder of Life Camp and I Love My Life, said she has seen first-hand how mediation has worked in southeast Queens, and called the pilot program a good first step.

“Young people who feel disrespected sometimes act without thinking about what causes us to take drastic decisions that lead to these horrible outcomes. We use all sorts of activities like yoga to help them just stop and think who they are and what their purpose is and what they’re really doing,” she said. “It’s about helping them understand that the pain they feel inside doesn’t have to define their life or their future and they can move past it.”

The model — known as CureViolence — takes a three-pronged approach.

The first is enlisting people from the community with street cred to identify those most at-risk and stepping in before something happens. The next step is to reach out to those beyond the social support system — such as drop-outs or people who have never held a legitimate job — and try to get them to reject violent behavior. The third step is to work on a broader level to get the community at large to discourage a culture of violence.

Citing academic studies, the task force found that most successful programs — those with proper funding and satisfactory hiring practices — have been shown to decrease shooting incidents up to 34 percent, and Ford commended the Council for allocating more that $4 million for the pilot program.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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