West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 12 | August 22 - 28, 2007

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Inez de la Nuez, who works at the Grand Street Settlement, talked with Seventh Precinct Community Affairs Officer Nicky Teo (not shown) at last week’s forum on gun violence on the Lower East Side.

Lower East Siders blast back against gun violence

By Albert Amateau

Lower East Side residents, including the mother of a 13-year-old girl injured last month by stray gunfire, met with elected officials, gun-control advocates and police last week at the Grand Street Settlement to talk about keeping neighborhood families safe.

The Aug. 16 forum, which included City Councilmember Rosie Mendez and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, was a response to two incidents, one on July 8 and the other on July 22, in which two youngsters were hit by stray bullets while on the grounds of the Samuel Gompers Houses between Columbia and Pitt Sts.

“My daughter was shot in the leg on July 8. She’s all right now and it could have been worse, but I’m mad — angry. It’s a good thing they arrested somebody before I got to them,” said April Bowens, the mother of the 13-year-old girl.

“Kids don’t have anything to do after 6 o’clock — they’re teenagers and they’re not going to go home,” Bowens said. “At Baruch Houses they have a center that’s open until 9 o’clock, but most kids don’t know about it and aren’t interested in what they’re doing. Things have to change. This neighborhood used to be wonderful. It went from good to terrible. When you get on the elevator you have to make sure nobody is following you. And when you go into your apartment you have to close the door quickly. I’m scared, even grown men are scared — I’m tired — it’s enough,” Bowens said.

On July 30, police arrested Randy Ramkishun, 17, of 60 Pitt St. in the Samuel Gompers complex for the July 8 shooting of the girl in front of 71 Columbia St, on the east side of the Gompers Houses. He was charged with attempted murder, assault and criminal possession of a weapon. He is being held pending an Aug. 31 arraignment. Wilfred Santos, 24, of Brooklyn, was charged as an accomplice and was freed on his own recognizance pending a Nov. 19 court date.

The July 22 shooting in which a 10-year-old boy was injured in front of 100 Pitt St., also in the Gompers complex, is still being investigated.

In a July 2 meeting with Captain Frank Dwyer of the Seventh Precinct, residents demanded more police patrol in the Rutgers, Baruch and Vladeck Houses on the Lower East Side where four people had been injured by gunfire in June. Captain Edward Britton of Police Service Area 4, which patrols public housing in Lower Manhattan, told The Villager later that police had made three arrests in connection with those shootings.

Dwyer left residents unsatisfied at the July 2 meeting when he said he could not beef up patrols around public housing at the expense of safety for the rest of the Lower East Side precinct.

But at the Aug. 16 forum, Police Officer Nicky Teo, in charge of Seventh Precinct community affairs, said that while the precinct has limited personnel resources, officers are assigned according to where crimes occur in the precinct.

The main demands at the forum last week were for more relevant youth activities, gun control and improving neighbors’ willingness to tell police about criminal activities.

Teo assured neighbors — who waved banners that read “End the violence” and “Guns off the streets now” — that they would remain anonymous if they took the citywide offer of $100 for each gun turned in to the police precinct. Teo also urged parents to tell their teenagers that a recently enacted law provides for a prison term of three and a half years for anyone convicted of illegal possession of a gun.

“If you find a gun in the street, don’t throw it away, turn it in to the precinct. There are no surveillance cameras and you don’t have to give your name or address,” Teo said.

However, Inez de la Nuez, a Grand Street Settlement staff member in charge of the Baruch Elder Services Team (BEST), told Teo that residents are afraid of retaliation from criminals if they’re seen complaining to police.

Kavanagh and Mendez said their offices would serve as intermediaries to relay information to police without identifying the source.

“You have to start trusting somewhere,” said Mendez. “You can call our office and we won’t give you name to police if you don’t want us to,” she added.

Nevertheless, Teo noted that it is very difficult to prosecute unless there is a complaint from the victim of a crime.

Mendez recalled that reports channeled through her office resulted in drug arrests at the Vladeck Houses south of Madison St. in June and in the Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis houses north of Houston St. on July 26, 27 and Aug. 7.

Carolyn English, a resident of Masaryk Towers on Columbia St. adjacent to the Gompers complex, recalled that a few years ago residents would not report crack dealers working the neighborhood.

“We all knew the people who were dealing and we didn’t do anything until a senior was killed. Then people found a way to get information to the police,” English recalled.

Jacqueline Kuhls, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, told the forum that 30,000 people a year are killed in gun violence nationally. The supply of illegal guns in New York, a state with strict gun laws, comes from Virginia, George and Florida, states with minimal gun control, she said.

“Illegal guns used in a crime end up in the river or a landfill,” Kuhls said. “Gun dealers indeed depend on a market where guns disappear and have to be replaced.”

Nevertheless, she noted that gun control recently scored a significant victory in New York City’s Federal Court civil lawsuit against 15 gun dealers. Several of the out-of-state gun dealers have agreed to stricter enforcement of existing gun laws after the recent court ruling in Brooklyn.

“Talk to your kids about guns but don’t pressure them,” Kuhls urged parents. “The number-one reason that kids give for having guns is that they’re afraid. But they should know they’re more at risk if they have guns,” she added.

Margarita Rosa, executive director of the Grand Street Settlement, noted that the unintended victims of gunfire were injured on the east and west side of the Gompers Houses and the settlement community center.

“We’re concerned with educating the community about how to prevent these incidents and make sure they don’t recur,” Rosa said. “We want to be able to be safe — to sit outside with our babies — and for no more teenagers to be victims of gun violence.”

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