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As Gun Violence Rates Remain High In Albany, Another Community Discussion Is Held

Albany Common Councilor Derek Johnson, Community Advocate Lauren Manning, SNUG's Justin Gaddy and Albany County Legislator Sam Fein.
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Albany Common Councilor Derek Johnson, Community Advocate Lauren Manning, SNUG's Justin Gaddy and Albany County Legislator Sam Fein.

With the gun violence spike continuing in Albany, a "Stop the Violence" panel discussion was held virtually this week to share public perception and search for a remedy.

Albany County Legislator Sam Fein says participants shared "moving stories about how violence has impacted them, their thoughts on how to prevent violence," and "how we can reach young people in the city."

"Part of the problem is when there's a rise in violence, people start paying attention for a short period of time and talk about things for a bit, but then action isn't really taken, concrete action isn't taken, that actually addresses the issue."

For years, vigils, marches and community meetings have been called by various groups and individuals.

"There's meetings, and then violence goes in waves. So then maybe winter comes and there's generally less shootings in the winter, it's cold outside, people forget about it, they move on to something else. We can't forget about it, when, when a wave of violence goes down, because it'll come back, the root causes are still there."

Justin Gaddy with Albany anti-gun violence group SNUG says that for kids, city streets offer what he calls "an addictive lifestyle."

"It's that age right now to where they're like, probably 12, 13, thinking about getting into the streets or have ideas, or are already doing things that's leading them to go down the road to engage in criminal activities. I really think and I really believe that we need to look into that part of it. You know, the we have to be, to start them a lot earlier, then you know, we have to have more programs available for these kids at a younger age so we can help steer them into a path that's going to be more successful instead of giving them that time to be able to go out onto the streets and get familiar with some of the things that could be addictive."

Arbor Hill resident and community advocate Lauren Manning says one of the biggest drivers of violence is poverty, and says when money does trickle down to the community it has little impact.

"I'm gonna deal with how I'm going to eat today, before I deal with if I go to school, before I deal with attending your program."

Manning says these aren't "bad kids" with "bad parents," they’re victims of a lack of community investment.

"There's a lot of guns in our community. And it has a certain group of people feeling that they need to carry a gun to be safe. And you know, time and time shows that people who have guns, they handle situations differently than people who don't have guns. And unfortunately, people are relying on the guns to be the solutions to their problems."

Albany Common Councilor Derek Johnson of the 2nd Ward says his brother was murdered here in 1993, something he thinks about every time another person dies from gun violence in the city. He believes increased city services including stepping up traffic safety efforts and opening new community gathering places could make a difference

"So if you look at what's going on at Albany, our kids have nothing to do, teenagers have nothing to do. Middle-agers have nothing to do. Adults have nothing to do. And that's so depressing. So, you know, our kids — we don't have outlets. And a lot of times people who don't have outlets, they respond to little things, and they explode."

Fein, a Democrat from the 6th District who is running for state Assembly, points out that what's going on is a regional problem, not limited to Albany. Fein is troubled that guns, violence and crime have been glorified in movies and music.

"That was one of the things that came up in the conversation, is the culture of violence, you know, in our society. People mentioned, you know, artists on YouTube who wave around guns in their music videos and just, yeah, movies, the culture of violence in general, it's not, that's not an easy thing to change. But I think that just that, that makes it all the more urgent that we try to, you know, reach his kids and have them get on the right path before they're kind of brought in, you know, influenced too much by this culture."

Fein says providing activities for teens at community centers, along with group conversations and youth program initiatives, are all positive counterweights.

The panel concluded a good first step is to focus on expanding existing programs that are already working. A new West Hill Community Center, which may include a variety of amenities, including a pool, a gymnasium, fitness area, training classrooms, meeting spaces, senior programming, and more is already in the planning stages.

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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