Saving Our Streets-- A Response to Community Violence

More guns on the streets, a rising death toll and the beginning of a long summer.

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All across Harlem USA, it's known as the 'Memorial Day Shootout.' And no one wants to remember it.

As families, friends and acquaintances celebrated the season's most picturesque evening late that Monday, a scene erupted on the borders of Marcus Garvey Park that could have come right out of a frightening war movie. And when the far-too-real, 10 minutes of mayhem had ended, seven teens lay bullet-riddled and bloodied along a three-block stretch in the heart of the neighborhood Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Billie Holiday once strolled for inspiration.

In time, all the victims are expected to heal and survive, but what about the new image of prosperity and goodwill being cultivated in Harlem?

"It had gotten a little better, and now it's getting worse again," said Jackie Rowe-Adams, a lifelong borough resident who lost two young sons to street violence, which has made her acutely aware of such issues.

"Guns are flowing like water, and it's like a river," adds Adams, founder of Harlem Mothers SAVE (Stop Another Violent End). "Years ago the older kids had guns, and now it's the babies that have them."

Maybe more disturbing is the growing trend in many major cities where neighborhood violence seems to be on the rise, with more deadly results. Last weekend in Washington, D.C., seven people were killed and seven others injured in a string of shootings that prompted police authorities to flood the streets with military-style patrols.

Five weeks earlier in Chicago, 36 people were shot, nine of them fatally, in a weekend so treacherous that longtime Mayor Richard Daley implored citizens: "Know where your children are. It's going to be a long summer, and parents better capture this responsibility."

At a time when many of these urban neighborhoods seem to be enjoying some kind of upswing, this sudden surge in violence raised questions about the causes. In the Harlem shooting, six of the victims were found sprawled near the doorway of a new luxury condo building where all of the $1 million plus units had sold instantly.

Gov. David Paterson, who was born and reared in Harlem, has attended several community meetings in response to the shootings. He said that he will focus on bringing jobs to Harlem.

The Rev. Al Sharpton is now also coordinating a high-level community summit to address the violence. The forum is slated to bring together community and religious leaders, law enforcement, young people and elected officials, including Gov. Paterson and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Last year alone, nearly one black child a day under the age of 17 was shot and killed in New York City, mostly by other black city residents," says Sharpton, who hopes that whatever plans are eventually put in place in Harlem will serve as blueprints for other neighborhood and cities griped by similar problems.

"Shootings and violence within our community by one of our own is an outrage and an issue that we must confront as diligently and as passionately as a sensational case of police misconduct or brutality," Sharpton says.

In either case, we are left prisoners in our own neighborhoods and victims in our own communities. And that is something we should not forget on Memorial Day or at any other time.

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