On Easter night, a series of brawls and violent confrontations broke out in Times Square and nearby Herald Square among roaming bands of youths, reportedly resulting in the shooting of three women and one man, whose ages ranged from 18 to 21. A 20-year-old Bronx man was arrested in two of the shootings. The New York Police Department alleges that a rowdy group, including some who are gang-affiliated, caused the mayhem after flocking to the area for the annual New York International Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. More than 50 youths were arrested or given summonses for disorderly conduct. Although some who were picked up later claimed that they were wrongly apprehended at the scene, what isn’t in dispute is that while the injuries among the wounded weren’t life-threatening, the incident—which garnered newspaper and television coverage worldwide—stoked old fears. The mayor called it “wilding.”
Some of the old anxiety had already been creeping back. The citywide murder rate rose nearly 23 percent in the first 11 weeks of the year compared with 2009. Despite multiple economic challenges facing the city, the mayor in his executive budget reversed proposed cuts that would have reduced the NYPD head count. Ostensibly, the move was a reaction to the failed May 1 terrorist bombing. But the proposal to cut cops had people anxious well before Faisal Shahzad left his SUV parked in Times Square.
For many New Yorkers, however, crime isn’t news. While peace has prevailed in much of the city for most of the past 15 years, there are plenty of neighborhoods where the presence of guns, as well as their deadly consequences, are routine. And it’s a reality that no single demographic in New York City knows quite as intimately as its youth.
In 2008 more than a quarter of the city’s gun-violence victims were age 16 and younger. Some experts fear that the onset of summer—with more teens out and about, fewer jobs available and budget-busted services—will contribute to a rise in youth-related gun violence. Those observers point to cases like the fatal shooting in May of two teenage bystanders in the Bronx—Marvin Wiggins, Junior, 15, and Quanisha Wright, 16. Two Bronx men in their 20s have since been arrested in the case. “The story is not that something—for all practical purposes—‘unprecedented’ happened in Times Square,” says David Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “We still have poor communities of color where mothers are afraid, kids are getting shot, kids are getting killed, and every young man knows somebody who has been killed. That’s the story.” It’s not all about numbers. Individual shootings have an impact that a digit (there were 1,800 shooting victims in the city in 2007, the last year the city provided that figure) doesn’t convey.
In July 2008, Brooklyn native Dwayne Hyde—then a 25-year-old employee with the Steve Madden shoe company at the Kings Plaza shopping mall—hopped on his motorcycle and rode alongside several friends to attend a nighttime barbecue in Flatbush. “We were heading out to a different barbecue in Queens because a friend of mine wanted to use our bikes in a music video,” he recalls. “That’s where I really wanted to go.” But Hyde agreed to briefly stop o with his friends at the barbecue being held on the intersection on East 59th Street and Glenwood Avenue. “I saw a lot of people that I knew, so I was just greeting everybody,” he says. “The whole time I was there, I was just keeping my eyes open. Anytime I’m in a large crowd, I’m always aware that something could happen.” Nearly five minutes later, something did. As he sat on his motorcycle and waited for other friends to join him for the ride to Queens, Hyde answered a cell phone call and watched a green Oldsmobile roll by. Within moments, he heard what he initially thought had been fireworks. “I heard, ‘pop, pop, pop’ through my right ear. And as soon as I turned, I got hit by the bullet.”
The single bullet, fired from a .45-caliber weapon, struck Hyde on the right side of his face. “I fell, and then my bike fell on top of me,” he explains. Bleeding profusely as he lay on the ground, Hyde witnessed the chaos unfolding around him. “There was maybe another 12 to 14 shots that rang out. I heard people screaming, and I saw everybody running all over.”
As friends quickly raced to his side, some got to work on moving the motorcycle away from Hyde while others used cell phones to call paramedics and his mother. “All I was thinking about was my mother. I was just praying, ‘Lord, please, I can’t die like this,’” explains Hyde, who says his father was shot and killed in the city during an attempted robbery in the 1980s.
He was rushed to Brookdale Hospital, and it quickly became clear how badly Hyde had been injured. The bullet shattered the right side of his jaw, damaging his nerves, and lodged near his spine. Fearing paralysis, doctors waited until the next evening to conduct surgery. “I later found out that three other people got hit too. They were treated and released,” he says. “And one of the cops on the scene told me that they found bullets from three different guns.”
The spike in gun violence these days has been rattling some neighborhoods that had enjoyed a relative respite from violence, including increasingly gentrified locales like Clinton Hill, Brooklyn—where the 88th precinct has already seen six shootings this year, including a couple of drive-by incidents in which bullets struck pedestrians, after experiencing none during the first six months of 2009.
Soon after the shootings, Councilwoman Letitia James— who assumed her seat in 2003 after the assassination of then Councilman James E. Davis by a political rival inside City Hall—made a public appeal in March for the area to be designated as an NYPD Impact Zone, which would bring an influx of rookie cops. That request is still under review. But in the meantime, the NYPD has since deployed a mobile unit and skycam to Myrtle Avenue.
Still, James contends that more law enforcement should only be a partial plan of attack. “We need to rearrange our priorities. All the emphasis has been on developing downtown Brooklyn, but we’re seeing blood and death on our streets right in the shadow of all that,” she says. “Our kids need part-time jobs and more after-school programs. If there’s money for the $4.5 billion Atlantic Yards development project,” which James has adamantly opposed, “then there should be money for this. What’s more important?” The question is where that money should go. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has run a series of gun buyback programs—the latest of which took place in May at six area churches and led to the acquisition of nearly 300 guns— as well as pushed to increase the maximum sentencing penalty for carrying illegal firearms and produced a recent DVD film on the impact of youth gun violence in the borough. But Hynes says he remains “frustrated and worried” by the spike in shootings.