Diocesan News

With Gun Violence Plaguing Streets, Churches Look for Ways to Help

This New York Police Department map shows the locations in Patrol Borough Brooklyn North where the recent shootings have taken place. (Image: NYPD/Compstat)

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Gun violence has erupted on New York City streets this summer — in ways not seen in nearly three decades — and Brooklyn communities are bracing for the possibility of more shootings as the hot, humid weather causes tempers to flare.

Fifty-three people were shot and four people were killed in nearly two dozen shootings in New York City during the three-day period between Friday, July 10 and Monday, July 13, according to the New York Police Department.

The fatalities included the heartbreaking story of one-year-old Davell Gardner Jr., who was at a barbecue near the Raymond Bush Playground in Bedford-Stuyvesant at 11:30 p.m. on July 12 when two men approached the group and opened fire.

Davell, who was struck in the stomach by a bullet, was rushed to Maimonides Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. No suspects have been arrested.

Police are also investigating three drive-by shootings that took place in Canarsie on July 13 in which five people were injured. All five victims are expected to survive. The suspects have not been caught.

On July 15, six people were shot — one fatally — by three gunmen who walked up to a group of people hanging out on President Street near Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights and opened fire.

The escalating violence has nerves on edge in a city where they were already frayed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

According to Father Alonso Cox, pastor of St. Martin De Porres Parish in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Catholic Church can play an important role in healing communities torn apart by gun violence. The parish is comprised of three churches – Our Lady of Victory, Holy Rosary and St. Peter Claver.

“This is all so unfortunate that even in the midst of a pandemic, we are facing this,” Father Cox said, referring to the rash of shootings.

He recalled a recent conversation he had with Monsignor Paul Jervis, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi–St. Blaise Parish, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.

“We were talking about how there has to be a better dialogue between the NYPD and the community,” Father Cox told The Tablet. “There should be an open, honest discussion on all sides where we can share ideas. We have to work together.”

He believes the church can play a major role in facilitating such a dialogue

“The question is how can we come together to make sure we build up our community,” said Father Cox, who added that the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic has led to large numbers of job losses in many of the city’s most vulnerable communities.

Grass-roots organizations have shown a willingness to pitch in and help heal the city, according to the Citizens Committee for New York City, a non-profit that assists local groups with fundraising for neighborhood improvement projects. A survey conducted by CCNYC of community leaders in June found that 30 percent of them were willing to launch community-police relations projects if funding was made available.

The NYPD statistics on gun violence are grim. In a recent 28-day period that ended on Sunday, July 12, there were 21 shootings in the confines of the 73rd Precinct, which covers Ocean Hill and Brownsville.

There are more eye-popping numbers, all during the same 28-day period:

67th Precinct (East Flatbush); 7 shootings, 12 victims shot

69th Precinct (Canarsie): 6 shootings, 9 victims

71st Precinct (Southern Crown Heights, Wingate, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens): 7 shootings, 11 victims

73rd Precinct (Brownsville, Ocean Hill): 21 shootings, 26 victims

75th Precinct (Parts of East New York, Cypress Hills): 19 shootings, 5 victims

77th Precinct (Northern Crown Heights): 12 shootings, 24 victims

79th Precinct (Parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant): 10 shootings, 15 victims

81st Precinct (Parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant-Stuyvesant Heights) 5 shootings, 6 victims

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a retired NYPD captain, called for the return of the Anti-Crime Unit, which was eliminated in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent public outcry over police tactics.

The Anti-Crime Unit was comprised of plainclothes cops whose focus was taking guns off the streets.

“I think that a total elimination is something we need to reevaluate,” Adams told CBS New York. “Right now, bad guys are saying if you don’t see a blue and white you can do whatever you want.”

Father Lucon Rigaud, administrator of Church of the Holy Innocents, Flatbush, said churches are not just religious institutions. They are leaders in their communities and, as such, have an important role to play, he said.

“Gun violence is a major problem. We need to have a conversation. We must go to the root of the problem. Why do people get involved in gun violence? I believe peer pressure has a lot to do with it,” said Father Rigaud, who presided at a funeral mass for a young man killed in a gang-related shooting a few years ago.

Poverty is also a major factor in the rise of gun violence, according to Father Rigaud. “Poverty is at the root of everything,” he said.

But the church should be stepping up its efforts, too, he said. “The church can do a better job of reaching out to young people,” he said. “That’s why we hire youth ministers.”

Father Vincenzo Cardilicchia, pastor of All Saints Church, Williamsburg, said the shootings are part of a larger issue that the church has been speaking out about for years. “It’s the breakdown of the family unit. Young people feel like they don’t have a place where they belong. The church has been concerned about this for many years and no one listened,” he said.

Father Cardilicchia also pointed a finger at what he termed the “far left agenda,” which, he said, lacks respect for law and order.

Father Cox said his parishioners are deeply saddened by the events taking place on the streets and at a recent Mass, he asked them to pray for an end to gun violence.

“A few of us were talking after the Mass and one person came up to me and said, ‘God must be really angry with us for all of this to be happening,” recalls Father Cox, “but we still have to hold onto our faith. We have to speak to God’s love and mercy. We have to pray for people. Prayer is essential.”