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Harlem Residents Gather To Address Wave of Gun Violence

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Harlem residents, clergy and elected officials gathered at Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters Tuesday night to discuss the recent wave of violence that culminated in last weekend's fatal police shoot-out.

As people filed in, news of another shooting spread. Just hours before, a 14-year-old was hit in the abdomen. He was recovering, but this fresh example of gun violence in the neighborhood sent fingers pointing -- at parents not checking on their kids enough, at community officials not building safe places for teens to hang out and at the culture that teaches young men to carry guns to be taken seriously.

Makeda Barnes Joseph stood up to talk about getting shot in the stomach during a fight. "I was just talking to my mother yesterday. She's like, 'Why does it always have to be a gun every time there's an altercation?'" says Joseph. "What happened to the days of fighting? It doesn't always have to lead to a gun and one of our people dying."

Others pointed their fingers at the police officers who arrived during the dispute between Angel Alvarez and Luis Soto early Sunday morning. Alvarez was allegedly attacking Soto, but law enforcement officials say both men were probably hit with police bullets. Former police sergeant Anthony Miranda says race was an issue. "Is it they took both of them to be criminals?" asks Miranda. "Because they were both Hispanic? Would they have responded differently if there had been a female white or a male white involved in this scenario?"

Soto, who died after the Sunday morning melee, was mourned by family members. Myrna Soto says she's still waiting for confirmation that a police bullet killed her grandson. "To bury a grandson for a bullet that has no name is sad," says Soto. "It's really sad. That's all I could tell you."

Charges have not yet been filed against Alvarez. But police say he first shot at police officers, before four of them turned their guns on him. Rev. Al Sharpton and other community leaders who convened the meeting say they'll call on the mayor to hold a city-wide discussion on rising gun violence in the coming weeks.

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