YONKERS, N.Y. – Community leaders from Mount Vernon and Yonkers called for more jobs and more resources to help reform gang members Wednesday at a meeting of the Yonkers Anti-Violence and Gang Prevention Coalition.
The mayors and police commissioners of both cities joined 25 coalition members at the Nepperhan Community Center in Yonkers.
“Myself and my partner, Pastor James Hassell, were in a meeting with 35 gang members recently,” said Jim Bostic, the Nepperhan center’s executive director. “All but two of them were fathers and unemployed. They said that if we could find a solution to that problem they would leave their guns in that room.”
Bostic has been involved in gang prevention for over 15 years in Yonkers. He believes the biggest issue for gang members is a lack of community resources. “We can’t arrest ourselves out of this problem,” Bostic said.
Charles “Flip” Burnette of the SNUG Violence Prevention program in Yonkers agreed with Bostic. "They tell me, ‘Flip, I’ll help you in the projects and leave the guns alone, but if you really want to help me, get me a job,'" he said.
Burnette is one of five members of the SNUG team that actively go out into the streets of Yonkers – specifically The Schlohohm and Nodine Housing projects – where gang violence is mostly prevalent. Since the coalition and SNUG – GUNS spelled backwards – began working with law enforcement, they have seen a 30 percent drop in murders and shootings.
“The areas we are involved with on a nightly basis, we’ve seen an 85 percent decrease in murders and shootings,” said John Thompson, SNUG’s director of fund and program development. “The biggest difference we’ve seen is that, when they are armed with the resources and the opportunities to succeed, there is change.”
In addition to the need to find resources to rehabilitate gang members, several coalition members voiced their concern over the relationships between police and residents. “I long for the day when law enforcement knew someone’s name,” Bostic said. “Growing up on these streets, that was a good thing. It meant officers were on foot patrols learning about individuals and not riding around in cars.”
“I love to do more foot patrol,” Yonkers police commissioner Charles Gardner said. “I wish I could put them all over the city. Unfortunately, that is extremely expensive and this city is in a fiscal crisis. We are out there and we are doing more.”