WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
For a decade, New York City's murder rate has been on a steady decline. Last year, 466 killings were recorded. That's the lowest number since reliable stats were first established in 1963 and a dramatic improvement from the 2,245 murders reported in 1990. But for the first nine months of this year, murders are up more than 13 percent over the same period last year. In real numbers that means 386 people have been murdered the first nine months of this year compared to 341 over the same period last year.
The mix of available guns and the rise of gang-related violence is particularly a deadly mix for young men of color.
Commissioner Ray Kelly says the statistics are alarming. ""African Americans make up 24 percent of the New York City population, yet they were 58 percent of its murders victims in 2009 and 73 percent of its shooting victims,” says Kelly.
Kelly says the disparity could not be more pronounced. "The homicide rate for African American males between the ages of 18 and 34 is more than six time higher than that of young Hispanic men and more than 12 times higher than that of young white men." Kelly concedes that turning these stats around can't be accomplished by the NYPD alone.
A broad coalition of Brooklyn-based pastors has sought out the NYPD in hopes a finding a way to reduce the toll gun violence is exacting on their communities. On Wednesday, Kelly and the coalition committed to a ten-point plan to try and find a way to short circuit the gang-related gun violence by opening up a dialogue with gang members and the broader community.
Bishop Gerald Seabrooks, of the Rehoboth Cathedral in Brooklyn, is one of the spokesman for the Clergy/NYPD Task Force to Reduce Violent Crime. He says what needs to be done requires faith-based institutions to leave to comfort of their churches and engage the broader community. He says there has to be an end to "black-on-black" violence.
"The churches are ready to walk the streets and to talk to young people," says Seabrooks. "We are willing to met with gang leaders, to sit down and talk to them. No, we are coming out of the walls of the church because the real church is in the community."
Commissioner Kelly committed to expanding the NYPD's existing 'Gun Back' program, which over the last two years has resulted the removal of more than 6,000 guns from the streets.
Both police brass and the clergy conceded that one of the biggest challenges they face is getting support to the tens of thousands of grandparents who are now single-handedly raising their grandchildren. All totaled, there are a quarter of a million households in New York that fit that profile according to the latest census data. In the Bronx alone, almost 44,000 grandparents -- or 43 percent of the grandparents in that borough -- are the primary caregivers for one or more children. In Manhattan, that number is 143,000, of 38 percent of the grandparents living in New York County.
Going forward, the NYPD senior female officer corps will be working with clergy members to devise strategies to help these at-risk households where grandparents are struggling to keep their grandchildren out of gangs and in school.
During the press conference, clergy members were asked to what extent the NYPD's aggressive 'Stop and Frisk' policy in high crime areas might be undermining the trust in the precincts where it is needed most.
Clergy members said the only way to move forward was by directly engaging the gang members in the neighborhoods who, they said, are often themselves looking for a way out.
Kelly and the clergy coalition said they are already getting calls from throughout the city from other members of the faith-based community looking for ways to plug into what was launched today. But despite all the good intentions, the chronic budget crisis is already putting major pressure on the very programs -- including summer jobs and after school programs -- that can shape a viable alternative to a life lived on the streets.