Brownsville residents say they are being held hostage to neighborhood violence, prisoners in their owns homes unable to live their daily lives.
They question why their community is still in chaos despite a rash of new anti-violence programs pumped into the neighborhood over the last two years.
“It’s not enough,” said David Murray, 52, listing the new services in his neighborhood while travelingdown Riverdale Avenue in his wheelchair, yards from where a 2-year-old girl was hit by a stray bullet during a drive-by shooting Sunday.
Murray said he makes a point of being home before 5 pm when more gangs members gather on street corners. “I can’t run. I can’t to dive the ground,” said Murray, who is in a wheelchair because he has arthritis. “I’m like a duck in a pond.”
Others said they play it safe by grocery shopping in other neighborhoods so they aren’t walking Brownsville streets; staying indoors other than going to work or church; and never leaving their homes after dark.
To curb the violence, officials have opened the Brownsville Community Justice Center and the Brooklyn District Attorney Office’s “Back on Track” center.
There are even a handful of new community gardens, a farmers market, and plans for a boxing gym – all sharing the goal of shifting the area’s lawless culture.
In the past two years, a slew of city agencies have added a mix of prosecutors, parole officers, counselors, and health enthusiasts to Brownsville’s work force.
“Programs bring hope to a community,” said James Brodick, project director of the new Brownsville Community Justice Center, who hopes to launch a counseling for convicted gunmen.
“The shooters are getting younger and younger,” Brodick said. “Older folks in the community have influence. You can’t just say ‘oh it’s the teenagers (doing the crime),’ and look the other way.”
The district attorney’s office is focusing on Brownsville’s teens, sending high school-aged middle school students to the “Back on Track” classes housed at a center on Atlantic Avenue.
Assistant district attorney Mary Hughes, who runs the 10-month-old program, said the teens she sees highlight Brownsville’s bigger problems. “There’s gangs, drugs, lack of education, lack of jobs,” Hughes said. “We need to go step-by-step.”
But Maria Reyes,60, who doesn’t feel safe enough to walk to her local Key Food when she runs out of milk, doubts any of the programs will work unless parents start disciplining their troubled children
“A few bad people are keeping this neighborhood hostage,” Reyes said. “How do you change a community if you can’t admit that your child is doing wrong? Unless we admit that we as a community allow certain things in our homes, it is not going to change.”