S.O.S. South Bronx rallies to curb violence
A small group of men gathered at the entrance to the John Adams Houses on Tinton Avenue at sunset on Oct. 23 to mourn Mott Haven’s most recent murder victim and pledge themselves to a renewed crusade against gun violence.
They surrounded the family of the murdered Tyrek Singleton on the spot where he was gunned down five days earlier.
“It’s sad that it’s violence against each other in this community,” said the Rev. Jose Quinones, of the Missionary Spanish Baptist Church. “It’s black on black and Latino on Latino.”
Responding to five separate 911 calls of shots fired at the Adams Houses at 6 p.m. on Oct. 18, police arrived to find Singleton face down and unconscious with a bullet to the chest. They took him and another man who had been shot in the leg to Lincoln where Singleton was pronounced dead.
The wounded man, whose name has not been released, told police he and Singleton had been standing in front of the building at 680 Tinton Ave. when two men in light- colored hooded sweatshirts came up to them and, unprovoked, began shooting. The two attackers ran away before police arrived, heading north on Tinton.
After seven days without a single murder in New York City, the shooting began a bloody weekend. Five men were killed in Brooklyn and the Bronx in a 24-hour period following Singleton’s murder, and a sixth man was killed that Sunday.
The men who gathered with Singleton’s family hope to reduce the incidents of gun violence in Mott Haven. Many of them wore matching jackets inscribed on the back with the letters S.O.S., the initials of the organization Save Our Streets. They handed out Save Our Streets t-shirts and pins to passersby.
Save Our Streets treats gun violence as though it were a disease, looking for the people most likely to be “infected.” Its staff members, many of whom are ex-convicts or parolees who once used guns themselves to settle grievances, patrol the streets handing out literature and talking, in particular, to young men.
The non-profit Center for Court Innovation founded the organization in Crown Heights in 2009, and says since then gun violence in the Brooklyn neighborhood has declined by 20 percent. With start-up funding from the New York City Council, S.O.S. expanded to the South Bronx last February.
Nelson Mendoza, a supervisor with S.O.S. South Bronx said he was hopeful that the new branch of the organization could have an impact similar to its Brooklyn counterpart.
“This is only the second community response we’ve had to hold,” he said, referring to the candlelight vigil for Christopher Tashane Byrd who was shot and killed at East 152nd Street and Jackson Avenue on June 4.
Despite the bullet-filled weekend, murder is down in the 40th precinct and has been steadily declining since the early 1990s. There were 72 murders in Mott Haven, Melrose and Port Morris in 1990; last year there were 12. The use of guns has declined, as well, by more than half so far this year.
Police attribute this drastic reduction to the Impact Response Teams that are concentrated in the neighborhoods with the worst crime. The teams are comprised of rookie cops, who flood the streets in areas identified by the crime statistics compiled each week.
S.O.S. uses statistics much as the Police Department does, to identify neighborhood “hot spots” and the times of day and days of week when shootings occur. Like the police, the organization aims to have a large presence in the neighborhood.
Quinones, who serves as the organization’s clergy liaison, says it’s time the community itself did something to address the violence that afflicts it.
“We have to invest in our community. It has to come from within,” he said at the memorial for Singleton. “I have a 10-year-old daughter. I don’t want to have to come out to something like this for her.”