Albany leaders hold emergency meeting to address alarming gun violence spike

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Albany city leaders called an emergency meeting to coordinate their response after five shootings in less than 24 hours that injured 12 and killed one person. Common Council members say they were devastated to hear what was happening to their neighbors as guns went off across the city Thursday.

“I also work in the Albany City School District, so some of those young men that got shot were former students of mine, and I woke up the last couple of days to a lot of pain,” says Ward 2 Councilman Derek Johnson.

“At Pearl and Albany Street, approximately 70 spent shell casings were found. Imagine that? Imagine, that’s a war right out there on one of our city streets,” says Ward 4 Councilman Kelly Kimbrough.

Although summer usually leads to an increase in crime rates, numbers provided by Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins show this recent rash of shootings Thursday proves 2020’s spike in gun violence is alarmingly above average.

Hawkins says at this same time in 2019, Albany witnessed 29 incidents of confirmed shots fired. This year, the city is up to 99, equating to a 341 percent increase.

He also says at the same time last year, there had only been nine shooting incidents resulting in injury or death. Now in 2020, there’s been about four times the usual with the current count at 39 incidents where at least 53 people were reported hurt or killed. Hawkins says the stressful times around the world might be a big factor.

“We went through COVID, now we’re going through civil unrest across the country and it’s changed the dynamics. So what we’re seeing in other urban areas across the country, is that there’s a significant uptick in gun violence,” Hawkins explains.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the community also lost out on public programs that assist with housing, food, work and social resources, thanks to the pandemic.

“Many of the agencies that we worked with shut down, many of the workforce development classes that were going on we’re closed, and so we did lose a lot of those resources, but we’re back. We’re in phase 3, our agencies are re-engaged,” she says.

They hope kicking public resources off again will ease some community frustration.

“We have had tremendous successes where we have helped individuals who maybe were engaged in activities that put them at risk of being a victim of violence and helped them to move in the direction that they want to move in,” Sheehan says.

Both she and Hawkins are also putting together a group to review police policies and representation of community issues, per Governor Cuomo’s mandate for local government reform to police and community relations by April 2021.

“We will be looking into all of the various organizations, both within the city and within the community, to provide us with representation on the collective and also to bring forward ideas that need to be explored as part of this process,” Sheehan explains.

“We are going to be looking at some of these [police] interactions where it may be that a case worker, a mental health professional — if we had additional resources there — would be better suited to addressing those issues,” she goes on to say.

However, Albany leaders say they also need community cooperation to prevent gun violence and bring justice to its victims.

“I think that the answer is just what we’re doing right here — having support from the mayor’s office and from all of our elected officials who are ingrained in our community, who are working with folks in our community to get the word out that the police department cannot resolve this alone,” Chief Hawkins says. “We need more than just innovative police strategies. We need more than just more cops. We need our community to help us navigate this very, very troubling period that we’re going through right now.”

“It’s truly going to take a village to get past this issue. It’s truly going to take the help of community members and community work,” says Ward 5 Councilman Jahmel Robinson.

They also have words for anyone tempted to pick up a weapon as their way to resolve an issue.

“Don’t. I’m going to ask you to think before you pick up this weapon, think of how it affects our neighborhoods. Think how it affects the kids that are woken up to these shootings,” says Ward 11 Councilman Alfredo Balarin.

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