“IHAS BECOME like the old west, gunfights at noon,” says Khayan Reed, a Bronx violence disruptor. Work with Stand up to Violence (all terrain), a program started by Jacobi, a city-run hospital. all terrain considers violence a disease that can be cured through intervention. Until the pandemic hit, it was succeeding. Gun violence in their target area had decreased. Now, violence is omnipresent. “There are so many guns,” says Carjah Dawkins-Hamilton, all terraindirector
New York City is nowhere near the 2,000 murders a year it saw in the early 1990s (it had 488 in 2021). But some neighborhoods are downright unsafe. This month five police officers have been shot, two of them fatal. Several people were pushed onto the subway tracks and one of them died. A teenager was killed while working at a Burger King. An 11-month-old baby was hit in the face by a stray bullet.
“Gun violence is a public health crisis. There is no time to wait,” says Eric Adams, the new mayor. On January 24, he published his plan to combat gun violence. Mr. Adams is a former police captain, but his plan goes beyond surveillance. All city agencies will be involved in public safety, including garbage collectors. “If you live in a dirty community,” says Erica Ford, founder of Life Camp, another violence intervention group, “you think you’re dirty, which helps reinforce negative behavior.” Each agency will have a coordinator against gun violence. Mr. Adams intends to increase the number of hospital-based intervention programs, such as all terrain. He will redirect resources to those who urgently need mental health care.
Next week, President Joe Biden will visit New York to discuss gun violence with the mayor. Adams is prioritizing the issue that won him the election. He will be judged on how successful he has been in making the streets and subways safer.
But some of what he wants to do is out of his hands. He pushed for more gun restrictions and begged Congress to pass the stalled Build Back Better Act, which includes funding for anti-violence initiatives. He wants the state to repeal bail reforms and wants violent teens under the age of 18 to be tried as adults. Progressives in Albany, the state capital, are unlikely to please him.
Controversially, Adams intends to reinvent the disbanded Street Crime Unit, a plainclothes squad. Members will wear modified uniforms and cameras and will be carefully vetted and trained. Some violence disruptors are concerned that this means a return to indiscriminate stop-and-frisk, which a federal court ruled unconstitutional in 2013. But one Life Camp violence disruptor, who has spent time behind bars, sighs that “desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Most of the Life Camp workers have prison histories, giving them credibility with the people they are trying to deter from violence. Roger “Nacy” McCleary and Justice Townsend, who were 21 and 19 years old when they were locked up, turned 31 and 27 years old. They know very well what is at stake. On a recent afternoon in Jamaica, Queens, a New York borough, Life Camp’s outreach team toured Sutphin Boulevard’s “hot spots,” the corners where rioters congregate. On the way, they greeted everyone. They warmly greeted a 12-year-old boy who was walking into a store with his sisters. Disruptors had previously intervened when he started hanging out with a gang. Adams will need many similar interventions for his plan to succeed. ■
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This article appeared in the US section of the print edition under the headline “New Sheriff in Town.”