Residents skeptical of lasting change in wake of West Farms shooting

New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., gathers with other local politicians to denounce the gun violence that injured three on Monday, August 29, 2011.

Politicians gathered two days after the shooting of two preschool girls in the South Bronx neighborhood of West Farms to decry the violence and call for stronger gun control laws. But local residents said that endemic problems in the community require longer-term solutions, and cannot be solved merely through legislation or enforcement.

In a prepared statement, Democratic Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera said, “Quite simply, strict gun control laws in this State are necessary.” Rivera, a former NYPD detective, called on Republican Assembly members to join him in enacting stronger legislation. Other area politicians, including New York State Senator Ruben Diaz and Community Board District Manager Ivine Galarza, echoed his remarks, emphasizing the need for an increased culture of respect.

While politicians hope that the incident at East 181st Street & Daly Avenue will be a turning point for the area, many long-time residents do not share that optimism. Some said that the endemic problems in the community run far deeper and require long-term solutions to gangs, drugs, and prostitution.

A security guard in the complex of seven low-rise apartment buildings where the shooting took place described a drug trade that has flourished during the five years he has been employed by CDC Security. Latchman Perumal said he is not armed and is therefore reluctant to confront suspicious individuals in his building. “All I can do is write a report,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jeannette Bocanegra, 44, a local resident and community activist, pointed down East 180th Street and deplored the lack of hangout spaces for teens, stating that bored youths get involved in gangs and drugs. “Pharmacy, fruit market, Chinese food, nail salon, beauty salon, liquor store – do you see any place for kids?” she said. She blames the lack of community facilities for the fact that her son, 15, turned to crime and is currently in prison for robbery.

Bocanegra, a mother of six, attributed the shooting to teens who let their tempers get out of control. She felt that the incident could have been avoided if there was someone in the community – a parent, a neighbor, or a trusted mentor – to counsel the suspect into thinking before acting. “Do you think they meant to shoot those kids?” she asked. She pointed to the fact that the suspect, Luis Moore, turned himself into police voluntarily as evidence that his actions were simply an adrenaline-fuelled escalation and something he will regret.

According to statistics provided by the NYPD’s CompStat system, crime in the 48th Precinct is down 22% since 2001. However, that belies seasonal differences in the crime rate. Many area residents including Mary Archer, who lives around the corner from the shooting, said that winter is pretty quiet in the area, but that there is a definite spike in the summer. She also said that the area is marginally better than when she moved to it in the 1970s. “There were people laid out dead in the streets,” she said, describing victims of gun crime.

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