Elected officials call for more to be done to stop rampant gun violence in southeast Queens

Photo by Todd Maisel

Following recent incidents of gun violence in southeast Queens, including the shooting death of 14-year-old Aamir Griffin on a basketball court near the Baisley Park Houses in Jamaica last month, state Senator James Sanders called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase preventative resources to help end the rash of shooting that have tormented his constituents for far too long.

“We have lost too many lives, and especially young lives, to gun violence, and the time to take action is now,” Sanders said. “We can no longer sit on the sidelines and call for peace, we need to put into place a strategic plan consisting of a cohesive group of resources that will make a real difference in stopping these crimes.”

These steps include reopening local community centers and extending their hours; bolstering after school program partnerships with smaller community-based organizations; expanding Beacon programs; increasing funding for trauma centers and opening additional centers in southern Queens; developing and funding anti-violence curriculum in New York City schools; and creating a universal youth employment and education system.

More than 1,000 mourners jammed the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in St. Albans for Griffith’s funeral on Nov. 4 and Sanders, Councilwoman Adrienne Adams and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams wrote about the ninth-grader in a letter to Cuomo and de Blasio.

“Aamir was a beloved member of his community who helped his neighbors bring in groceries when the elevator was out of order,” they wrote. “He never broke curfew or missed a day of school. Aamir died while doing what he loved, playing basketball. He was already being scouted by college recruiters and scored the game-winning basket for his high school team a few days before he was killed.”

Cardozo High School basketball coach Ron Naclerio eulogized the young man who started as a freshman on the school’s junior varsity team.

“He had that Magic Johnson smile and he always had respect for everyone,” Naclerio said. “He was inconceivably young and there will be no more games this season for Aamir, no varsity, no college degree and no chance to play in the NBA which was his dream,” Naclerio said. “I don’t have words to heal this broken family, broken by violence. Reality is very cruel.”

Sanders, Adams and Williams, in their letter to Cuomo and de Blasio, said that despite an increased police presence in southern Queens in August, shooting jumped by nearly 56 percent, up to 14 from nine.

“Simply put, Aamir lost his life because the plague of gun violence in our city is so pervasive that kids cannot play basketball in their neighborhood without endangering their lives. But more policing is not the answer,” they wrote.”An NYPD observation tower was placed above Foch Avenue weeks before the shooting, and officers were patrolling the area near the court at the time of the shooting. If the solution to gun violence was simply increasing police presence, Aamir might be alive today and southern Queens would be one of the safest areas in the city.”

The elected officials also pointed out that shooting victims are more likely to die in southern Queens than in other areas of the city because residents live farther away from trauma centers than residents in other neighborhoods. The region has only one remaining trauma center which may close soon because it is tens of millions of dollars in debt.

“It is clear that the state and the city must provide extensive investment in local communities and incorporate community based organizations into our public safety plans to fight the pandemic of gun violence,” they wrote. “Since residents of southern Queens have some of the longest commute times in the city, many youths are left alone after school, on weeknights, and on weekends. Our communities, including southeast Queens most urgently, need job training and other afterschool programs to provide youth with alternative activities during their time out of school.”

The three elected concluded the letter saying funding was found to strengthen programs in Brownsville, Brooklyn and they know those programs work.

“If we can afford to spend $9 billion to open new jails in each borough, we can afford to spend as much to make major investments in communities of more color that are being targeted by over policing and trapped in the cycle of mass incarceration, like southeast Queens.”