Gun Violence "Forums" - Effective Tool Or Waste Of Time?

May 19, 2014

Various communities across New York have played host to  forums that purport to address gun violence.

Credit WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

A series of recent community gatherings held at various branches of the Albany Public Library and most recently at Albany High School have gotten media attention but have come up short when it comes to catching the eyes and ears of police departments and public officials.  Community advocate Marlon Anderson organized the majority of the forums.    "The problem with the gun violence issue is that has not been given the priority or the seriousness that it is due from the community that it most affects. We're leaving it to different organizations or different individuals. This has to be an overall effort."

Some 90 miles to the west in Utica,  a “Shots Fired” forum is scheduled tonight.  Patrick Johnson, Founder of the Hoops & Dreams Project, has partnered with local officials and hopes residents will show up, following a homicide within the past month and two shootings last week.    "We do not have the frequency of homicides or shootings here in Utica that you unfortunately have in Albany. We did have a forum a few months ago and unfortunately the turnout that we were looking for we did not get. So we are re-addressing this. This is spearheaded by Councilman Jerome McKinsey, but several of us are in partnership in this effort to build awareness."

Longtime Albany community activist Alice Green would like to see the manufacture of weapons cease, but she realizes that is very unlikely.   "People use guns in violent acts because there's something else going in their lives. They're either frustrated, in poverty, angry. All of these issues are there but we haven't tried to address them and get at the heart of why people have to use violence. So it's more than just taking guns off the streets, by gun buyback programs and all of that. It's really changing our society in terms of how we view guns and recognizing that in many ways our society is very violent. We see it everywhere. And yet we're surprised when people actually use violence to address issues."

Green adds "the jury is out" regarding the effectiveness of various programs that have been launched in cities struggling to deal with gun violence, where gangs and endemic poverty prevail in challenged neighborhoods.    "There's a lot of concern in the community about how to reach young people. The fear is that they're all going to end up with guns. People are not really talking to them in a way that connects with that young population.”

Patrick Johnson agrees.  "It is becoming an all-too-familiar occurrence in black and brown communities. And for that reason I think that people are all but at a loss as to how to approach it. But it is essential that we keep hope and do not give up."

The public is invited to listen and speak out tonight 6 p.m. at the Thea Bowman House Auditorium in Utica. 

Albany Police attribute the increase in shootings since the last quarter of 2013 to intercity gang rivalry. City officials did not return requests for comment.