New York – The crack of fireworks mixed with gunfire over the Independence Day holiday weekend in New York City.
In Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills neighbourhood just after midnight on Sunday, a 20-year-old man was fatally shot at a home still decorated with birthday balloons, one of 64 people reported injured or killed over the weekend amid an increase in shootings.
The man’s mother and sister sat in lawn chairs across the street, answering detectives’ questions, while local residents continued to illegally light fireworks in the street just beyond the yellow crime-scene tape, a noisy release in a city riven by the coronavirus pandemic and more than a month of protests about police violence.
A little later in Brooklyn’s East Flatbush, at about 4:22 a.m., a 19-year-old man and a 27-year-old man were shot. The teenager was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Less than an hour passed before a 40-year-old man was killed in the Langston Hughes public housing project in Brownsville.
“It must bleed that mother’s heart to know her baby is no longer here,” Brenda Coke, 62, said after escorting her sister home to one of the nearby buildings.
There were 205 shootings in June, up 130% from the same period a year before, and 39 murders, according to data released by the New York Police Department this week, although it remains a fraction of the high crime rates seen in the early 1990s, when more than 2,000 New Yorkers were murdered each year. Chicago and other cities have reported similar upticks.
Officials and criminologists do not often agree on the causes of increasing crime, except to say those causes are complex and exacerbated this year by a pandemic that killed more than 23,000 city residents and wreaked havoc on employment and the economy.
“There’s not one cause for something like this,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Monday. “The fact that the court system is not working, the economy’s not working, people have been pent up for months and months: so many issues underlying this challenge.”
Leaders at the NYPD have taken a different view, blaming a wave of police reforms prompted in part by more than a month of protests against police violence sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The NYPD’s chief of department, Terence Monahan, attributed the rise in part to bail reform and the compassionate release of some prisoners from Riker’s Island, the city’s main jail, and criticized a new law that makes it crime for police to use restraints that can hamper someone’s breathing.
“It means a lot of different individuals are on the street that should not be on the street, and we have seen them involved in violence,” he told reporters.
Chidi Duke, the program director of a neighborhood non-profit group called East Flatbush Village, said the violence was traumatizing.
“Over the Fourth of July weekend, some kids had to be taken out of a neighborhood because they were scared of the sound of firecrackers after hearing guns fired on their block,” she said.