Sensei Will Lawton of the Mary Mitchell Center's after-school program with Shareyana, who lives in the building where a fatal shooting took place last week. (Photos by Rachel Waldholz)"[It was] like watching a western in your living room on a 50-inch television," he said.
At about 5 p.m. last Monday, Sensei Will Lawton was standing on the basketball court behind the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, where dozens of kids in the Center's after-school program were playing. Suddenly, he heard gunshots, and then saw, just outside the fence, three figures running up the street, one of them "just blazing away," said Lawton, who runs the Center's martial arts program.
The 5 p.m. shootout was followed within hours by another on the same block, this one fatal. Lawton and other staff had no sooner walked some of the kids home to their apartment building at 2000 Prospect Avenue, which neighbors the Mary Mitchell Center, when a gunman shot three people outside the building, killing Felix DelValle, 19 and wounding two others, including the apparent target, Angel Rivas, 42.
The incident came the same day as Vada Vasquez, 15, was shot in the head in an unrelated incident in neighboring Morrisania. The story of Vasquez, who is now expected to recover, has been covered by the tabloids for days but scant attention has been given to the Crotona murderYesterday evening, the Mary Mitchell Center called a meeting of elected officials, police and community organizations to address the shooting.
"It became crystal clear that we were not doing enough," said Heidi Hynes, the Mary Mitchell Center's director.
Mary Mitchell Center Director Heidi Hynes with Victor, who also attends the Center's afterschool program and lives in the building where the shooting took place.
The meeting brought together local clergy and organizations like the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, and Mothers on the Move, along with the Rev. Joseph McShane, president of Fordham University, Councilman Joel Rivera, and representatives of other elected officials, the mayor's office and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. (The federal drug czar, who heads the federal agency, had planned to attend and had even sent an advance team a day earlier, cancelled the day of the meeting, but sent a high-level local official, Chauncey Parker, in his stead.)
It was in some ways a microcosm of the larger debate over what to do in neighborhoods plagued by violence. Deputy Inspector William McSorley, commander of the 48th Precinct, emphasized that police need more information from local residents. Representatives of the Mayor's office, as well as the office of U.S Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, praised Mayor Michael Bloomberg's commitment to gun control.
Representatives of community organizations stressed that the violence was connected to larger struggles - for living wage jobs at the Kingsbridge Armory, for instance, which some said would provide an alternative to the drug dealing that fuels much of the violence.
Staff at the Mary Mitchell Center expressed frustration that the city - and, they said, its billionaire mayor - can't find the resources to invest in more community programs that work like those at Mary Mitchell.
Phillip Carr, 17, was arrested in the shooting that killed DelValle. He used to come by the Mary Mitchell Center, said Lawton.
"He was a good kid,” Lawton said. “We know that kid. All he did was play basketball."
His arrest was part of a common pattern, when after-school programs for teens lose funding, Lawton said. "The money was cut, we lose sight of him, next thing we know he's in prison or in a coffin."
Hynes led the meeting, passionately exhorting her audience to commit themselves themselves to participate in solutions to the crisis.
She introduced local leaders like Karen Washington, who has presided over the Garden of Happiness on Prospect for 25 years. The community garden is a destination for local school kids to learn about farming and healthy eating. Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter came from a little further away to talk about the living wage push at the Armory. More good jobs, more good food, more programs for kids, Hynes and her guests were saying, can all help curtail violence and create positive paths to adulthood. Hynes also told meeting participants that new, significant investment in city neighborhoods was critical and suggested that a tax on affluent New Yorkers was something the mayor and the City Council should seriously consider.
Adolfo Abreu, a teen leader in the northwest Bronx youth organizing group Sistas and Brothas United, who was home for the holidays from a prestigious stint as a Congressional page in Washington, said taking guns off the streets, was only a part of the answer. Programs that give kids guidance and teach them skills are equally important, he said.
After the meeting, Hynes considered next steps. "I really think we need to know: what's every church doing, what's every school doing, what's every tenants' association doing?" she said. "I think Crotona needs to create a report - the state of Crotona report - that has our own recommendations."
And then, she said, she's taking those recommendations to the mayor.
-This story was reported and written by Rachel Waldholz. Jordan Moss also contributed to this article.