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Rage in Harlem

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By Herb Boyd, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

(NNPA) - Without the consolation of tears and in a quivering voice, Myrna Soto, the grandmother of a young man slain in Harlem over the weekend, said, “I wish this had never happened.”

But her grandson, Luis Soto, 21, was dead, his body riddled with five or six bullets, the fatal one through his heart probably fired by a police officer. “I didn’t want to lose this grandson,” Soto said during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening at the National Action Network. “It’s sad. It’s real sad.”

If Soto’s rage was muted, the hundreds jamming the House of Justice were not, and the Rev. Al Sharpton had called the meeting not to point fingers and blame anyone, “but for people to talk and discuss how we can come to terms with violence.”

Such violence was occurring right up the street from the meeting, as it was reported that a young boy had been shot. At first, he was reportedly dead but it was later corrected to say he would survive.

Soto didn’t survive, and amidst an ongoing investigation, it is still a bit murky as to what really happened early Sunday morning near Colonel Charles Young Playground at Lenox Avenue (Malcolm X Boulevard) and 144th Street.

According to the latest police report, Soto was in a fight with Angel Alvarez, 23, over a young lady when a gun materialized. It is still not clear whose gun it was, but the police account said Alvarez had it and pointed it at officers arriving at the scene.

Two shots were fired from the fracas between Alvarez and Soto, the police say, which precipitated a barrage of 46 shots. When the shooting was over, Soto lay dead, with Alvarez wounded by 21 bullets and two officers and three bystanders shot.

Anthony Miranda, chairman of the National Latino Officers Association and a speaker at the meeting, said the officers failed to use the necessary precautions and properly evaluate “who was the victim and who was the perpetrator. And 50 shots, that’s excessive.”

What many citizens learned four years ago from the tragic shooting of Sean Bell, a victim in a fatal flurry of 50 bullets, was that according to police procedure, an officer is supposed to, after three shots, evaluate the scene then determine if more force is necessary.

That clearly was not exercised in this most recent incident. That and other points were raised by outraged participants at the meeting, including Ade Williams, who expressed a strong concern about the “culture of snitching” among the current generation. He called for the end of such behavior but was aware that to call the police often exacerbates a bad situation.

“We must police our own community,” was a comment offered by more than one spectator—something Tamika Mallory, executive director of NAN, had stressed during her opening remarks.

The dais was overflowing with noted community leaders and elected officials. Assemblyman Keith Wright picked up on the theme that “it’s up to us, we have to do it ourselves,” he said of ending the violence. “One of the hardest jobs we have as parents is turning boys into men.”

“I’m tired of excuses, no more excuses,” expounded Hazel Dukes, civil rights stalwart and NAACP leader. Soto’s death was like “another one of my children is dead,” she said.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Members Robert Jackson and Ydanis Rodriguez, State Sen. Eric Schneiderman, District Leader Theresa Freeman, Minister Abdul Hafeez Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, political activist and candidate Basil Smikle, Kirsten Foy of the public advocate’s office, the Revs. Herbert Daughtery and Vernon Williams, and Omowale Clay of the December 12th Movement were among those waiting a turn at the microphone.

Clay received a rousing applause during his brief remarks. “It’s easier to get a Glock than an apartment,” he said, referring to the current firearm of choice.

It may have been such a weapon that wounded Makeda Joseph. During her statement, she related how she was shot. “I was shot by a woman, so it’s not just young men with guns,” she said.

Most of the notables forsook their time in order to hear what the community had to say about the wave of violence. And the recommendations came in torrents. “We’ve got to find some way to help our single mothers raising children by themselves,” charged Renna Walker. She also suggested that churches could play a bigger role in stemming the conflict.

Veteran activist Michael St. John called for establishing a curfew for the children. “I’m willing to work with anybody on the details of this,” he declared.

“We need to put all our ideas in a box as we leave here this evening,” said Natasha Green, a local teacher.

Several community members repeated that it’s time to end business as usual when it comes to police brutality. Lesha Sekou, Stafford Warren and Jael Sanchez were among those who indicated that it is necessary to take the messages at the meeting to those in the streets.

“I’m mad,” said Rev. Williams, who had just come from yet another shooting on 129th and Madison Avenue. “What we’re doing to ourselves is over nonsense. We need to take back our streets. All you have to do is to get mad.”

Some of the streets and a few blocks have apparently already been recaptured, such as143rd Street, where Diane Boyde is the president of the block association. “I’m very concerned that our block and association is being blamed in the recent incident,” she said. She took exception to news coverage that suggested her activities were in some way connected to the shooting.

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