The tragic death of Zuranna Horton, a heroic mother in our community, forced us all to confront festering community cancers – gangs and gun violence. There are daily media reports of gun related violence in the Brownsville and East New York sections of Brooklyn. The funerals, candlelight vigils, and the devastating impact of gun violence are reported with regularity. Why was a mother, who was selflessly protecting children from gang gunfire, cut down in the prime of her life?
Let me state and emphasize a clear and unequivocal set of facts, guns must be off the streets and out of our community. Every possible effort necessary will be pursued to address the easy availability of guns and the gun related violence. Criminals, who have no regard for life, regardless of their age, need to caught, convicted, and punished. My office works closely with the entire spectrum of law enforcement to achieve community safety. The guns and the individuals responsible for Ms. Horton’s horrific death are symptomatic of underlying factors that substantially contributed to this crime.
Our community has been systematically stripped of programs that better resourced communities take for granted. Programs that enrich, sustain, and positively guide youth have virtually been eliminated in our community. Adults from the 55th Assembly District, who grew up in Brownsville/East New York reminisce nostalgically about sports programs, after school programs, organized social groups, summer jobs, and enrichment programs that kept them on paths to productive lives and away from the negativity of the streets. They remember an infrastructure that supported positive activities. Their lives were launched by a supportive social infrastructure that the youth of today have not experienced. Churches, community based organizations, City and State agencies have all been stripped of funding that formerly supported youth focused programs. Today, families in our community no longer have the options to choose between supportive programs OR gangs.
In Brownsville/East New York and in other economically depressed communities across New York City, gangs have become the most successful and fastest growing youth focused activity. Their growth is fueled by budget cuts, program reductions, and the chronic disenfranchisement of our struggling youth. Self-funded by criminal activities (robberies, gun trafficking, drug sales, etc.) gangs have not been impacted by budget cuts. Horrific initiation rites offer kids who are struggling with school, family issues, poverty and a range of problems the opportunity to experience acceptance, status, and advancement in the gang. Their recruitment strategies and enrollment statistics exceed those of our most successful community based organizations. But the gang members do not outnumber the overwhelming number of kids who are trying to do the right thing.
Gangs are not new; they have posed the same threat to our community for decades. Adults who can wax nostalgic about growing up in rough neighborhoods also remember the positive pressure not to become involved in gangs. The difference today is that the counterweights of productive activities and organizations who offer an alterative have been stripped away. The small number of youth who commit serious crimes need to be humanely dealt with, but their rehabilitation should not be at the expense of the youth who are trying to do the right thing. New York State spends over $200,000 a year to incarcerate youth in a secure facility. Resources have to be reallocated to our community so that the youth can make the choice that every New Yorker who came from poor tough neighborhoods did in his/her youth to take the positive path and not find status in gang violence. Zuranna is a heroine, forever lost to her children, due to the senseless violence that must be eradicated in our community. We must rebuild the infrastructure of agencies and programs that will become a lasting tribute to her memory.