On the scale of shootings in the US, it was minor stuff. Nobody died. Six teenagers at a holiday weekend barbecue were wounded, however, on a night when 10 people were shot on the streets of Harlem. Shell casings were found along Lenox Avenue, home to local landmarks such as Sylvia’s soul-food restaurant.
Unlike the commonplace fatal shootings that can pass almost unnoticed, the mayhem unleashed late on Memorial Day, last Monday, has galvanised a community.
An arrest followed when a 15-year-old was discovered nearby with a .380 automatic handgun, but for many a single arrest is no longer the point.
“The social ills in our community are drugs, gangs and guns. When your peers are carrying guns, and they have the greatest impact on you, you end up carrying a gun,” says Kimberley Hayes, director of the New York City Mission Society’s Lenox Avenue centre.
“We can assume how easy it is to get a gun by how readily they are used on our streets to deal with a dispute. I don’t feel threatened in my community — it’s just the possibility of running into the wrong person is there.”
Of 4000 illegal guns seized by authorities last year in New York, more than a quarter were taken from suspects aged under 21.
About 200 residents, gang members and members of a women’s group called Harlem Mothers SAVE crowded into the Mission Society centre yesterday to demand action.
Harlem Mothers formed two years ago. Its co-founder, Jackie Rowe-Adams, 59, lost two sons to shootings. “Two. Who’d ever imagine?” Mrs Rowe-Adams said yesterday. “We’re talking black-on-black crime.”
In the first incident, her son Anthony, 17, was followed home from a grocery store and gunned down. A second son, Tyrone, 28, was shot and killed by a 13-year-old in Maryland during a robbery near his apartment.
“I had two choices,” she said. “Either I lay down and give up or … do something meaningful,” Mrs Rowe-Adams said.
“My job entails working with kids, so I could either have hated the teenagers or … help them. I chose to help them.
“Let me go to the parents. We’ve been blaming the police. We’ve been blaming the government and the elected officials, the teachers, but let’s put the blame where it begins. It begins with parenting … when you have to say no and mean it. The parents are young. Some of them don’t know about parenting; some of them are smoking weed with their children.”
Ironically, the Memorial Day shootings occurred on the eve of the city’s legal action against a gun dealer based thousands of kilometres away in Georgia, whose sales allegedly have been linked to 72 crimes in New York.
But Harlem Mothers has targets closer to home: the neighbourhood grocery stores, where they say guns can be bought in back rooms.
“This year came in with a bang, and summer’s not even here,” Mrs Rowe-Adams said. “We are trying to put this under control now before these kids get out of school. There’s no summer jobs so this is why (we) need to get it under control now.
“I can’t bring back my two, but I can certainly try to save another mother’s child.”
Kirsten Foy, of black civil rights group National Action Network, told the meeting at the Mission Society centre it was time to “stop being scared of our brothers and sisters”.
There’s a schism between young and old in black America, he said, and unless the old are prepared to bridge it, nothing much will change.
By Ian Munro, New York for www.theage.com.au