By David Brand
Dozens of votive candles arranged in a heart covered a piece of basketball court Tuesday at the Baisley Park Houses in South Jamaica, the place where 14-year-old Amir Griffin was shot and killed by a seemingly stray bullet three days earlier. Amir’s t-shirts, including a black tee featuring new Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving, hung from the chain link fence.
A hundred yards away — about the same distance police say a bullet traveled before striking Griffin — an NYPD observation tower rose above Foch Boulevard. The tower was placed there several weeks ago to address “historic violence” in the area, said an NYPD officer nearby. Cops were patrolling near the court at the time of the shooting, he said.
The evident police presence punctuated a point made by community leaders, activists and elected officials who addressed the media outside the Baisley Park Houses on Tuesday: Policing, they said, is not the solution to stopping gun violence. The mission requires jobs, education, extracurricular activities and community funding — a reversal from the decades of local disinvestment by city, state and federal governments.
“Police have a role to play, but if police could solve this problem, it would have been solved a long time ago,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “An overreliance on police is not helping. We need them to do their jobs and we need to invest in communities so they can do their jobs.”
Williams and other leaders called on the city to implement a universal youth job program and immediately re-open a community center at the Baisley Park Houses that has been closed since 2008.
“I applaud the mayor’s investment in Brownsville. We need the same investment in Southeast Queens,” Williams said, referring to a $9 million investment that the city made in Brownsville following a July mass shooting. “Find the money.”
Williams referenced the recent City Council vote to build four new jails, including one in Kew Gardens, as part of an effort to close Rikers Island. The Lippman Commission, a task force that recommended closing Rikers jails also called for major investments in low-income communities of color disproportionately impacted by over-policing and mass incarceration.
“We keep talking about the $9 billion for the jails. The same commission said we need $10 billion of other investments to make [the plan] work,” he said.
The press conference featured emotional testimony from Griffin’s aunt and local community activists, like 100 Suits founder Kevin Livingston, who said that after he learned of Amir’s death, he re-read a letter Griffin had written him in June. “I will keep his legacy alive,” Livingston said.
The press conference was the latest effort to address disinvestment in Southeast Queens, an issue that surfaced for many New Yorkers after an investigative report by The Trace and THE CITY detailed the fatal consequences associated with the area’s dearth of trauma centers. Gunshot victims are more likely to die in Southeast Queens than any other part of the city, the report revealed.
Councilmember Adrienne Adams said Mayor Bill de Blasio seemed to lack the will to direct more money to the district.
“Mr. Mayor, we have got to put our resources into our programs. Why do you consistently want to cut our jobs programs, our after school programs, our beacon programs?” she said. “The administration finds money for things that are important to them. Well this is important to Southeast Queens.”
Gun violence has increased in Southeast Queens in recent months, but that hasn’t resulted in additional state funding, said State Sen, Leroy Comrie. Meanwhile, the state has directed money to other high-profile endeavors, including $600 million for 500 additional MTA police officers in the subway system to address fare evasion and crack down on homelessness, he noted.
“The mayor [and] the governor can find resources for their pet projects,” Comrie said. “Southeast Queens needs to be their pet project.”