Murder of young mom puts spotlight on safety measures

By Vianey Alderete Contreras. A wanted poster for the killer of Jessica White is hung in front of a playground at John Adams Houses in Morrisania.

By Vianey Alderete Contreras. A wanted poster for the killer of Jessica White is hung in front of a playground at John Adams Houses in Morrisania.

Adams Houses residents, NYCHA, seek right ingredients to stop violence

After a young mother of three was killed on June 11 while shielding her children from stray gunfire in a John Adams Houses playground, residents of the public housing complex are once again asking what it will take to help them feel safer.

Barely six months ago, NYCHA’s chair and CEO Shola Olatoye held a press conference in front of their complex to announce new technology-based safety measures at Adams. Housing officials hosted a walkthrough for residents and press to show off closed circuit TV cameras that had been installed in corridors and elevators, and a bank of monitors with a feed to PSA 7, the area’s housing police headquarters on Melrose Avenue. 
In an email to The Express, a NYCHA spokesperson said that 95 cameras have been installed inside and outside the complex’s seven buildings since the January rollout, in locations determined as the result of consultations with residents. Olatoye announced in January that Adams Houses and other complexes would also be receiving electronic, layered-access control systems designed to keep unauthorized visitors from slipping into their buildings unannounced. Using that system, residents would be able to tap small electronic cards against an electronic reader to get into their buildings, though those devices have not yet been installed.

“Cameras are just one part of our comprehensive effort to improve safety, which includes better lighting and security doors,” the spokesperson said, adding that NYCHA has invested nearly $65 million citywide in security measures for its buildings since 2014.

But those affected by the violence say that, with or without the help of cutting-edge technology, they feel unsafe. At press time, nearly a month after the murder, Jessica White’s killer has not been identified. Police have released a grainy photo of a man in a hoodie on the Adams grounds, and say the investigation to find the killer is ongoing.

A CCTV camera at John Adams Houses.

A CCTV camera at John Adams Houses.

“They say these projects are supposed to have cameras, and I know mine don’t,” said Diana Void, the mother of White’s fiancé and grandmother of White’s children. She lives with the family in the McKinley Houses. Even if her buildings were equipped with the CCTV cameras, however, Void added, “it doesn’t change a lot.”

“Even if we had the doors, if somebody is going to do something, they are going to do it,” said Raven Williams, who grew up with White and has lived in John Adams Houses for over 20 years. “That’s not going to help people from getting killed.”

Williams said he doesn’t fear for his or his three year old daughter’s safety when she comes to visit, but that’s because they don’t venture out at night. He says NYCHA and the NYPD should do more to bolster security.

On a recent weekday evening, an NYPD patrol car was parked in front of an Adams Houses playground.

“They going to be like that for a while, and then you don’t see them,” said Dorothy Pendleton, a resident of the complex for 22 years. “You see them every now and then, then somebody gets shot and they come back around again.” Given the inconsistent police presence, Pendleton said, the presence of cameras in the lobby her building do help her feel safer.

Void said the housing police used to be on site all the time, but not anymore. She never sees them at night, she added.

“I’ve seen police depart and guns go off and they don’t move,” Void said. “I’ve literally seen the cops not move when they see the children fighting, and not break it up.”

To bring residents into the conversation about safety issues more regularly with law enforcement and housing officials, NYCHA has launched a Public Safety Advisory Committee, but above all, according to Void, residents must take the lead in defusing the ongoing blood feuds that fuel the gun violence.

“It don’t matter how many cops we have, if your mind frame and mindset doesn’t change, it’s not going to change anything,” she said.