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Seeking A Unified Effort To Combat Albany Crime Wave

Pastor Charlie Muller and Guardian Angels Leader Curtis Sliwa
Composite photo Dave Lucas/WAMC & Facebook
Stepping up to calm Albany street crime: Pastor Charlie Muller, Guardian Angels Leader Curtis Sliwa

Activists and community leaders are mobilizing in hopes of halting a recent spike in violence in Albany.

Police say 32-year-old Elijah Cancer was shot three times early Saturday morning as he and another person reportedly tried to intervene in a fight. Cancer, a member of the anti-violence group Albany 518 SNUG, was taken to Albany Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

The death has hit hard in Albany.

Pastor Charlie Muller has run a gun buyback program out of Victory Christian Church on Quail Street for years. He also operates a feeding center for children on the corner of Quail and First Streets. "We've had more shootings on that corner. More shootings on that corner than any other individual place in the city. So that should speak volumes, but, I think the police officers are trying to do their jobs the best they can.  I think they've been weakened by a message coming from the powers that be, and I don't know if that's true but it seems like, we've been here such a long time and it used to be guys would be checked out: 'What are you doing?' You know, you would see officers question them, but in the last three or four years nothing like that at all, nothing at all. And so if that's happening at different places in the city where these certain gangs that sell the drugs and... what happens is you're lenient on crime, now it's gotten to a point where we're in trouble."

Sunday afternoon, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan was joined by Acting Police Chief Robert Sears in a public park in Arbor Hill where the mayor made a tearful plea for help.

The televised plea inspired some residents to email the New York City-based Guardian Angels. Curtis Sliwa, the group's leader and founder, announced late Monday the red berets would be back in Albany by Tuesday evening.  "If there are people willing to join locally, and eventually go through the training and become the leaders, we're there to help organize, to be the sort of training wheels of the initial effort. That's all it takes. I think a lot of people, they assume they put out a call to the Guardian Angels and then we like mercenaries arrive on the scene. In a crisis, in a temporary emergency, that is the case. But then there has to be a local effort on an ongoing basis. That's why after 39 years we're in 13 countries and 130 cities all of them have local membership and local leadership, but they all follow the guidelines of the Guardian Angels. So it's gone from a local group in New York City to a global group."

More than 30 years ago, the Guardian Angels were invited to Albany after a similar crime wave gripped the city.

Sliwa was planning to speak to the community and the press at one of the city's most notorious intersections, Clinton and Lexington Avenues. 

Muller says he and his followers will walk down after a 7 p.m. prayer meeting a few blocks away.  He's hoping to see a unified effort to defeat summer violence.  "And it is sad that the Guardian Angels have to come into our city. You know what I mean? That is sad. But I will be there to kinda hear, you know, any plans, and see who from the community is there. But I think we can work within our community and like I said, celebrate success. And you know I think that's where, from the mayor’s office, she can look into the community and see who's doing what. And, 'Wow, that's great, let's celebrate that.' Let's get behind it, let's be positive about it and let's see how we can make our city safer."

Muller adds the amount offered for every illegal city handgun turned in throughout the summer has been increased to $200 and there is a $5,000 reward in the Cancer killing.

Meanwhile, the mayor, police department and police officers union have been caught up in a fracas involving social media.The mayor has stated she will not comment on a since-deleted Facebook post by the police union criticizing her leadership. Acting Chief Sears denounced the statement.

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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