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Anti-Gun Violence Dialog Ratchets Up In Albany

WAMC composite image by Dave Lucas

December has been marred by episodes of gun violence in New York's capital city. Albany continues its struggle to "take back the streets" following a series of shootings including three gun-related murders since December 5th.

Despite leaders’ best efforts to get guns out of circulation, they continue to proliferate.

Albany's gun troubles go back years. Lack of community confidence in the police is rooted in 1984. Back then, politicians, police and the local media routinely shunned gang-related acts of violence along with the city's then-growing gun problem, and the controversial police shooting of mental patient Jessie Davis. The "information iceberg" began to break upwhen New York City's Guardian Angels established a chapter in Albany's Arbor Hill, and the related stories began to appear in newspapers, radio and television.

But try as they may, politicians, police, clergymen, government officials and community activists have been unable to stem the tide of gun violence three decades on.

In 2007, the Albany Common Council adopted a local law introduced by Alderman Dominic Calsolaro that empanelled an advisory group known as the Albany Gun Violence Task Force.  "They met for quite a while. A year year and a half. They gave the city 16 of 17 proposals, one of which ended up becoming SNUG which is based on Chicago's "Cease Fire" model, and they did put that in place."

But SNUG couldn't stop a youngster from using a so-called "community gun." A stray bullet fired from it killed 10-year-old Kathina Thomas in 2008 on the sidewalk outside her home in Albany's West Hill. Citizens decry SNUG and other efforts to promote awareness of the gun problem. A SNUG Evaluation released July 2013 by the Center for Public Safety Initiativesshows crime reductions over the course of the program statistically of no significance. [Full Report in PDF format]

Credit Center for Public Safety Initiatives

Community advocate Marlon Anderson says the culture of guns and gun violence in Albany, which struggles with pockets of poverty, has been continuous for far too long, with no unified effort to curb it.   "We all have to get together and come up with a plan, a real plan,  not a political plan, that's gonna focus and engage the community and engage them to change the gun culture. If we don't truly engage it with leadership, with resources, with action, then we're basically just paying lip service to a continuing problem. And the fact that nearly two decades after we have engaged this gun violence problem that it continues to flourish in the city of Albany, is speaking to the problems that we're having."

But Dom Calsolaro won’t call the city's seven homicides so far this year a trend.  "Some of them are domestic. I don't think there's much you can do about that. I'm hoping in all my heart that this was just a bad year, that those are aberrations compared to what we've had in the last few years and with the program we've already put in place like SNUG, like Community Policing. I see more community involvement myself, more people willing to call the police or interact with the police then six, seven, eight years ago."

Calsolaro appeared Christmas night at a sparsely-attended SNUG anti-gun rally in Albany. He hopes a second rally Thursday night will attract more participants.

Marlon Anderson is putting together a January 15th "community conversation" about guns, gun violence, and gun culture at the Albany Public Library West Hill branch on Henry Johnson Boulevard. I quizzed Anderson, who held a similar event that was sparsely attended.

Dave Lucas: "Is this going to be the same thing? Six people show up? Is it that the community is afraid to come out and show that they're against gun violence?"

Marlon Anderson:  "It's not about fear or anything. It's more about politics. We got everybody on the same path but going in different directions to try and arrive at the same goal and it's not working. You have myself making community efforts, you have SNUG making community efforts, you have David Soares and Pastor Charlie making efforts..."

Anderson admitted that half the battle would be won if only each anti-gun faction attended and supported events staged by the others.  He is sending out invitations to the groups and individuals in hopes of presenting a united front at the January forum.   Albany Police declined multiple request for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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