How do we stop the gun violence that has plagued our city?
The question was on the minds of the 30 or so men who gathered Sunday afternoon at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center. Amid the servings of pizza and small talk came some serious discussion about how we can stem the tide of violence.
The forum was the idea of Marquis Thompson, a lifelong Newburgh resident who, having spent time in prison, desired to make a difference.
“I’m from the City of Newburgh and I would like to make a change,” Thompson said.
“I’ve learned my lesson from being incarcerated,” said Thompson, now 23. “Now that I’ve grown up, it’s not what I want for my children.”
Thompson reached out to the City of Newburgh Police with his idea for what he hopes will be the first of many public forums in which residents can share their ideas on how to make Newburgh a safer city.
“Law enforcement is not going to do it by themselves,” said Lt Joe Cortez who handles special projects for the City of Newburgh Police Department.
The number of shootings has actually declined in recent years, but those at Sunday’s forum believe there’s more work to be done.
In 2015, there were 55 shootings in the City of Newburgh.
That number would reduce in the following years: 48 in 2016, 17 (with six homicides) in 2017 and 8 (with two homicides) in 2018.
It wasn’t entirely good news. There were two more shootings reported on Saturday, the night before the meetings.
That’s too many shootings, says Isabel Rojas, project manager –group violence intervention for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the lone female participant in Sunday’s gathering. A Bronx native, Rojas said she’s no stranger to group violence.
“I’m not a prosecutor,” she said. “My sole purpose is to clear roadways that would lead to help for those who need it.”
Rojas asked that she not be looked at as law enforcement by the men in the audience.
“We want you guys to see us as people in our community,” she said. “My goal is to ask you guys how can we work together. Even if you don’t need that help, you might know somebody who needs your help.”
Malcom Davis, program director for Osborn Associates shared his own experience of being in and out of prison. Osborn, which relocated its office from Poughkeepsie to Ann Street in Newburgh, provides services for people in prison in those transitioning from prison to normal life. His work brings him to visit at least two prisons a day.
Davis, a Harlem native, said Newburgh is known as “The Forgotten City.”
“These back streets look like the South Bronx, or Harlem did in the 1980s,” said Davis. “When you walk the streets, it’s heartbreaking.”
Davis congratulated those who cared enough to be there.
“I am just one rebel that walks the streets and sees the need,” he said. “You got to make the change and be the role model. “
“Your children,” he suggested “should not know what the inside of a state prison looks like.”
He told them to call upon the many service providers and utilize whatever services are available for help.
“All that stuff about ‘product of my environment’ is BS,” he said. You don’t have to be gunslingers.”
“If we start from just the brothers right here in this room, we can grow.”
“If you need us, we will help you,” he said, stressing that this was not meant to be a meeting organized or run by law enforcement. “You guys in the city need role models….and you are the role models.”
Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey, who also addressed the group, noted that Thompson was once one of his students at Newburgh Free Academy. Crime in Newburgh, he suggested, was mostly black on black, with the perpetrators and the victims all growing up and living in the same space.
“We’re killing each other,” Harvey said.
Harvey said more jobs, more social services and more money coming into the city will all help.
He recently met with officials from C & S Wholesale Grocers Warehouse about creating more jobs for city residents, and said he is working on a bus that could run the length of Broadway to deliver workers to the job site, off Route 17K.
Thompson, who orchestrated the gathering questioned what anyone would gain by killing another.
“Why are we trying to impress one another,” he asked, “when nobody’s got no more money than the next.”