Long Island City murder leads to calls against gun violence

THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman

The shooting of a 27-year-old aspiring hip-hop artist near the Queensbridge Houses is raising clamor among politicians and community activists fighting against gun violence.

The victim, Francisco Leal, 27, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest around 10 p.m. on Saturday, February 2 at the corner of 21st Street and 41st Avenue. While the NYPD has released surveillance footage of a suspect, Leal’s killer has yet to be caught.

When Suga Ray, a teacher, activist and childhood friend of Leal’s heard his friend had been fatally shot in the neighborhood where they grew up, his first reaction was “heartbreak.” Ray said Leal had a great personality, loved creating music and cared deeply about his community.

“Since we were kids, he always said he wanted to make a better way for his family, himself and the community,” said Ray. “He always wanted better than what we had.”

According to the NYPD, there have been 99 shootings citywide from January 1 through February 3, 2013.

“There’s an epidemic of gun violence, both here at Queensbridge and the city and across the country,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who organized a rally following Leal’s death. “How do we bring young people away from guns, away from violence and into a better place?”

The councilmember believes increased programs for young people, including after-school programs, partnerships with libraries and cultural and athletic programs keep kids out of trouble. Last year, the Bloomberg administration proposed to eliminate all after-school programs and according to the Campaign for Children, after-school programs faced cuts of around $170 million. While after-school programs were saved in 2012, discussions about slicing programs in 2013 continue.

“Those kinds of programs are absolute life-savers, especially for low-income families where there aren’t more available options,” said Van Bramer.

The city’s flailing unemployment rate, Van Bramer added, is a factor in the upswing of violence.

“If there’s no help, if there’s no jobs, if there’s no economic self-sufficiency, people can gravitate towards things they shouldn’t be involved in,” said Van Bramer.

April Simpson, the newly elected president of the Queensbridge Resident Association, said ending violence is not just the responsibility of the police, but rests on residents as well.

“Someone lost a child last night. That could be my child tomorrow. That could be your child tomorrow. We need to say something. We need to take back our communities. We need to come together as one. We can’t protect our children if we’re sitting around and we’re not saying anything.”

Ray believes the key to ending youth on youth violence is to provide more opportunities which teaching people about inner peace and channeling aggression into positive outlets such as art and music — a passion of his late friend’s.

“That another young person would want to take another young person’s life is disheartening,” said Ray. “It happens so much. It’s happened to so many of my friends. It’s heartbreaking.”