The bloodshed this year has included the wounding in February of an armed 16-year-old by police officers responding to a report of shots fired on a rooftop; a drive-by shooting in July that left six people on the sidewalk wounded; and the unsolved killing in November of a man by a gunman driving near a public school.
Brownsville, a small, working-class neighborhood in central Brooklyn home to mostly blacks and Hispanics, also has one the city’s highest concentrations of public housing developments. The problems that can come with that distinction help fuel a perception that the neighborhood is “stuck in a bad situation,” said Eugene O’Donnell, professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“If you look at the revitalization of Brooklyn in other areas, the Barclays arena, the yuppies in Williamsburg, and then Brownsville does feel sort of stuck,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a bit of a sore thumb where there have been great strides in other areas in the city.”
The Rev. Cheryl Anthony, of the Judah International Christian Center, said she and others in the community have focused on changing mindsets and behavior, speaking to caregivers about gangs, helping the poor, providing support and sharing faith.
“It is a holistic approach,” she said. “It takes all of us working together. … Private sector, the community, neighborhoods, everybody has to be at the table in order to address and solve the problems.”
It’s also up to residents to discourage the street culture that glorifies guns, said Billips, a clergyman who grew up in Brownsville and specializes in working with gang members. He has credited Kelly and police commanders with teaming up with the clergy and community activists there to try to curb crime.
“The gun symbolizes power,” he said. “As an example, they say, ‘He’s always strapped,’ ‘He’s always ready,’ ‘He’s always packing’ or whatever. It’s like a status. You’re known as the guy or the girl that nobody’s going to bother.”
One of the worst examples a senseless loss of life Billips has ever seen was the Sept. 1 shooting Antiq Hennis, the 1-year-old in the stroller. The bishop recalled the horror of being in the hospital room where the family identified the tiny body.
“They just kept saying, ‘We want to see the baby. We want to see the baby,’” he recalled about the parents. “After seeing the body, that’s when the reality hit hard.”
He’s astounded that the father wouldn’t help police identify the killer.
“You kill my baby, there ain’t no such thing as ‘don’t snitch,’” he said. “That whole mentality is sick.”