The vigil at Redfern Houses in Far Rockaway honored victims of gun violence. It was well-attended. There was dancing and eating. Everyone wore white.
Kenny Carter was one of the speakers who took the mic at the rally last Friday, as people formed a circle around the basketball court. Carter is the founder of Fathers Alive In The Hood, or FAITH, a group that seeks to motivate and develop young men. Carter prayed for the souls of the dead, asking for protection and direction for the living.
He stayed for a while with his wife, who grew up in Redfern. Then they left.
An altercation took place later that evening, and a 15-year-old allegedly fired shots “towards the dispersing crowd,” according to NYPD Assistant Chief David Barrere’s prepared remarks. After telling the teenager to drop the gun, police said, officers shot him several times.
All at the site of a vigil addressing gun violence. Good luck finding a more dismal story.
It got worse for Carter, 41. Carter found that he knew the young man. The teenager had been to Carter’s FAITH programs.
Building on hope
Young people wander in and out of Carter’s sessions, held weekly in a handful of NYCHA developments around the city, among the places where there is too much violence and not enough opportunities. Carter brings in role models to talk: college graduates, formerly incarcerated individuals who have turned things around. The point is to build relationships. There might be just a few attendees, or as many as 20. In Redfern, some people might be drawn in for the free food from Jamaica Breeze Buffet. But others hang around to hear Carter’s message about community and manhood, which can seem refreshing in New York’s most overlooked areas.
Carter has credibility with some people at these sessions because of his own troubled and twisted background, which included time as a teenager dealing drugs in Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City and other tangles with the law and a rougher life. In recent years, he’s tried to escape that past, working as an adviser and counselor and putting his background to use. But the community-building work is a painfully slow process, and it isn’t easy.
On Wednesday, Carter pulled up a picture of the 15-year-old, who police said remained hospitalized and has been charged with attempted murder. The photo was from a few weeks ago, the young man with his arms crossed and a slight smile on his face. “He’s a young boy, he’s still in the development stages,” says Carter.
The immediate reason for the shots over Redfern last week was “some type of disagreement,” says Carter. There was a fight, before the gun. But the underlying causes of violence tended to be a lack of resources and things to do, says Carter, for starters.
The art of the possible
Redfern has often had issues with gun violence, including in recent years, according to Amy Wilkerson, director of youth services at Sheltering Arms, which runs an anti-gun violence initiative near Redfern and is hoping to expand its model there.
Despite the history, it pained Carter that the peaceful event had become violent, and he suggested there may have been a sense things were heading south when kids were drinking, arguing. He wonders what would have happened if police had stepped in earlier, not later. And he wonders what exactly happened in those moments of chaos. The details and specific circumstances of the altercation and the police shooting are not clear.
The city’s body camera program has not yet made it to the 101st Precinct, so there is no footage. Only the aftermath of someone being shot, and the Smith & Wesson handgun that police say they recovered at the scene.
On Wednesday, Carter was back at Redfern, posting flyers, greeting senior citizens as “elders,” and getting ready for another week of sessions there and around the boroughs. He planned to bring food and see who would show and who could be reached, as always.
“Every child has potential,” he said.
Programming note: amExpress will be running local next week. We’ll be back on 8/28.