Thursday, May 10, 2007

Youthful Violence Taking Over Mt. Vernon? Police Commissioner Brings Remedies; Mayor Only Laments Image.

By Vicki Mayfield and Richard Blassberg

Following a spate of violence, by youthful offenders, that resulted in two deaths by gunshot, critical injury to two others, and an assault against a Mount Vernon Police Officer at the high school the previous week, last Monday,

The Westchester Guardian was on assignment in that City hoping to interview high school students and other Mount Vernon youths in an effort to possibly uncover the underlying causes.

It had been our plan to interview students as they were dismissed shortly before 3pm as they walked home, stopping them at points a few blocks from the high school campus on California Road. However, just before 1 pm we received a call from a source within the school informing us that there was a “bomb scare” in progress, and that students were being dismissed early.

In no particular rush, not wishing to encounter crowds pouring off the campus, we waited for more than half an hour and drove into the neighborhood of the high school, arriving about 1:45, to discover small groups of students leisurely walking home. As we pulled to the curb about three blocks from the campus, calling
out to a cluster of three students, a car came rushing up the street, and positioning himself between us and the students, the school security staffer driving yelled out to them not to talk to anyone. He then drove off, ultimately circling back towards the school. Undeterred, we parked, got out and began to interview the next group
coming up the street. As we stood on the sidewalk speaking with a group of three girls and two boys, all ninth-graders, a large Suburban-type vehicle pulled up on the street, the driver, another school security guard, questioning what was going on. Upon our showing of press credentials, he nodded and drove off.

Asked why they had gotten out two hours early the kids told us there had been a “fire drill.” They agreed to speak with us on condition of anonymity, insisting “no pictures.” One of the girls said, “I feel safe on the bus, but not in school.” To which one of the boys responded, “Kids bring drugs and weapons through the side doors.” He
went on, “Some of the new security guards go too easy on kids they know. There should be better security checks.” Another girl backed that statement up suggesting, “They should bring in dogs to sniff out the lockers. Our parents are worried about our security.”

We next interviewed two eleventh-grade girls, friends who lived in the neighborhood near the high school. They, too, did not wish to be identified. One of the girls told us that she wanted to become a doctor, and that her mother was so concerned about her safety that she is considering sending her to a private school to finish high school. Her friend complained. “ There’s nothing for kids to do after school. We just go home and do computer.”The first girl then added, “Nobody is happy about the uniforms they want us to wear next year.”

When asked why they had gotten out early the girls also said it was a fire drill. Following our interviews we drove down toward the high school about 2:15 to discover about six police cars parked off-campus on both sides of California Road with an equal number of officers standing and watching small groups of students streaming away from the school. There wasn’t any apparent urgency, and police appeared to be maintaining as low a profile as possible under the circumstances.

Leaving the high school we went to East Fourth Street and Union Avenue, where a memorial to Reginald Reynolds, the twenty-year-old who had been gunned down by three shooters, at close range, the previous Wednesday, the 25th, had been set up. There we encountered a number of adults and young children
lingering for several minutes at the site.

Police Commissioner David Chong, interviewed on Wednesday, May 2nd, candidly revealed that his department had received word that there might be some kind of disturbance on campus Monday, and that they wanted to be prepared just in case.

Chong declared, “The kids are not dumb. They generated their own hysteria with text messaging and phone calls, that scared some good kids and parents.”

Turning more serious he told The Guardian, “What we need to do is stop the kids from killing each other.” Asked just what he had in mind the Commissioner responded, “We cannot arrest our way out of this culture.” He went on, “We intend to immediately institute more high visibility police patrols, especially in certain areas.

Those who are looking for trouble, if they come out in Mount Vernon there’s a good chance they are going to cross the path of a uniformed police officer.” He went on, “If we catch them with a gun they will face 3-1/2 years minimum with 2-1/2 years post-prison supervision, no exceptions. They better leave the gun at home.”

Asked how he intended to implement control over the flow of guns and drugs into his city, Chong responded, “We will be employing a Mobile Command Center capable of deployment anywhere in the City on a moment’s notice, which will be used in conjunction with bright lights and barricades, particularly in heavily trafficked areas.”

Explaining further, Commissioner Chong emphasized, “We will be looking out for and intercepting cruising troublemakers, by changing traffic patterns, and setting up checkpoints.”

When asked how he intended to deal specifically with gun traffic, the Commissioner said, “Guns seized in Mount Vernon are not made in Mount Vernon. We are looking at all kinds of law enforcement tools and procedures, including long-term covert investigation. We know that only a very small percentage of youths is causing the problem. We need good people to come forward with information.”

Tuesday night, Mayor Davis had addressed a crowd of several hundred concerned residents at the Macedonia Baptist Church, greeting them with the statement, “I am prepared to help our young people get to where they need to go. I deliberately chose the church to have this meeting because the residents of Mount Vernon are under an influence. Nobody in Mount Vernon makes guns or dope.

You’re all saints.” In contrast with the Police Commissioner’s comments to The Guardian, the next day, Davis appeared more concerned with the City’s image than with finding ways of dealing with it’s serious problems.

The mayor would tell those assembled, “Crime is down in the City. People have a lot to say, but it doesn’t have to be said tonight. So, if you’re playing to the cameras…”

Following Mayor Davis’ remarks, the moderator came to the microphone, as if on cue, and said to those assembled, and noticeably upset, “We already have an image problem, so don’t show any emotion to the cameras.”

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