Double Dutch in a War Zone

On Ghetto Streets, It's Bloodshed and Tears All Over Again

There is no greater pain for a parent than to have a child die, except perhaps watching that child gunned down in the streets in cold blood. In one breath you could be looking into the eyes of the life you have sworn to protect; in the next, you're wailing over an innocent, lifeless body. On November 17, the parents of eight-year-old Deasean Hill felt that agony when their little boy was shot dead on the streets of East New York as he walked home with his stepfather and siblings. Though devastating in its own right, the murder of Deasean is just one of many, as rampant violence continues to plague Black communities throughout this city—despite assurances by the NYPD, the mayor's office, and the headlines that New York is safer than it's ever been, for everyone.

Just look at the bulletins flashing on the police department's website, boasting of a hard-earned victory in the "war on crime":

"Homicides are at a 40-Year Low"

illustration by Jonathan Barkat

"Overall Crime is Down Another 6% this Year; 11% Over the last 2 Years"

"NYC Leads the Nation in Crime Fighting"

The messages offer no consolation to mothers like Deasean's, who suffer the reality of the streets. "I was afraid something like this would happen," Kimberly Hill told UPN 9 News the day after her son got caught in the crossfire of drug dealers.

She was afraid, and she was right to be. Overall crime—break-ins, auto theft, loitering—may be down, but several city precincts, from the Bronx to Queens, are experiencing significant increases this year in murder, shootings, and other forms of violence. Last weekend alone, four people died in a wave of six shootings, 10 knifings, and one attack with a baseball bat.

If you live in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York, no one has to tell you what's going on. In the 73rd Precinct, part of Brownsville, overall crime through the end of September was down 8.94 percent—but murder was up 50. In the 81st Precinct, in Brownsville/Bed-Stuy, that same period saw total crime fall by 7.23 percent—but murder rose 62.5.

Meanwhile, in the 77th Precinct, Crown Heights, crime dropped 6 percent—but murder in September alone spiked 400 percent over the same period last year.

The situation has gotten so bad that the city opened a special court this year to handle felony gun cases from the five Brooklyn neighborhoods that account for a quarter of the city's shootings, from Crown Heights to Flatbush.

"How you look at crime depends on which spin you accept," says one African American cop who lives in my Bed-Stuy neighborhood. "You can say that crime is down in New York City and be absolutely right—the statistics back that up.

"But there's another side to the story," he continues, willing to talk but not comfortable being identified. "Crime in minority neighborhoods is not accurately reflected by those stats. There are still too many serious crimes endangering the lives of those residents. So that if you live in Park Slope and your biggest fear is having your car stolen, then you can feel safe because car theft is down, but if you live in a place like Bed-Stuy, where shootings are up, then there is cause for concern."

The scene after a shooting is always the same: The blaring of what sounds like a hundred sirens saturates the area, shocking all senses into alert. Within seconds, a stampede of NYPD officers stops you in your tracks. Neighbors surface from behind dumpsters and cars, or file out from their homes, asking "What happened this time?" and "Where my kids at?" Within an hour, officers secure the area with yellow tape, keeping bystanders from peeking at the victims lying in the street. At night, the flashing lights from the parked patrol cars and the smoking flares used for lighting cast a soothing red glow, as residents quietly watch the paramedics tend to the wounded. Body heat from the crowd traps a nauseating aroma of fresh blood.

That stench was waiting for me the night of October 6, around the corner at the Gates Avenue housing project. Like most parents who roll up after a shooting in the 'hood, my first instinct was to make sure it wasn't my daughter. As I made my way through the crowd, the story unfolded: A foot was lying perfectly still on the pavement—the shoe didn't look familiar, so I knew my kid was safe. The rest of the body was hidden by cops and ambulance workers and onlookers, but voices from the crowd filled in the blanks. "That girl's in bad shape, son. You see all that blood pouring from her head?" said a man behind me. "Word, she mad young—she can't be no more than 15. She shoulda been in the house," replied another.

Eventually, the victim was removed and people went back to their routines—five little girls jumped double Dutch a few feet from the pool of blood, though it was after 10 p.m. Adolescent males held court in front of the corner bodega, replaying the events as if they'd just watched a bloody Tarantino flick: "Yo, that nigga came out from nowhere and just started blasting, son," one of them said. He pointed to the bloody spot. "One minute love was standing up right there. The next minute she on the ground, shot the fuck up."

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