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What can be done about Buffalo's near-record gun violence?

U.S Attorney James Kennedy (left, speaking in a microphone) and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn sit at an outdoor table
Mike Desmond
U.S. Attorney James Kennedy (l) and Erie County District Attorney John Flynn talk gun violence at an outdoor community meeting Wednesday evening.

Members of the public made clear Wednesday evening they want something done about the shootings in Buffalo.

They shared their concerns at Back to Basics Ministry on William Street. The "community conversation" was convened by U.S. Attorney James Kennedy, the Stop the Violence Coalition and Back to Basics Ministry to get public input on recent street violence, including the shooting death of a three-year-old.

Two people charged in another gun crime are "persons of interest" in the death of three-year-old Shaquelle Walker Jr. The toddler died last week from injuries in a quadruple shooting on Donovan Drive, near MLK Park, an area of multiple shootings. The injuries of the three others shot were not life-threatening.

Kennedy talked about his Project Viper, a two-month push against gun violence by law enforcement and community activists. He said the goal is to hone in on those at the heart of the city's surge of violence and get them off the street.

Members of the community sit under an outdoor tent
Mike Desmond
Members of the community share their views on recent gun violence Wednesday evening.

"Pro-active policing isn't just going out and turning our crime-ridden neighborhoods into minimum security federal prisons. We want to be targeted in the manner in which we are going about our policing, to go after the worst of the worst in terms of the offenders and if we can lock them up," Kennedy said. "I think the encouraging lesson that we have learned is that it's a very small number of individuals that are driving a large amount of the violence."

The violence threatens to break the city's annual record for homicides: 92 dead in 1994. Murray Holman, executive director of the Stop the Violence Coalition, said this is the worst year he can remember.

"It's bad. It's bad when we have young babies being shot in our community, innocent bystanders shot in our community, guns coming through here in all angles of New York, all directions from New York," Holman said. "We're tired of it. Our community's tired of it. So we have to have more forums and see all the help we can from law enforcement and from the community."

Speaker after speaker listed possible causes, like the lack of jobs. Paul McQuillen, executive director of Gun Sense New York, pushed against illegal gun sales and dealing.

"Guns dealers who shouldn't be selling guns in communities they shouldn't be selling them to," McQuillen said. "We don't want people selling guns out of the back of their cars. We don't want people trafficking guns in from Ohio and Pennsylvania and the Iron Pipeline up the I-95. We don't want people reporting their guns lost and stolen when they are being sold. So there's a whole lot of ways that we can interdict gun violence to prevent the guns from coming into the community."

The Stop the Violence Coalition logo on the back of a t-shirt
Mike Desmond
Members of the Stop the Violence Coalition were among the community activists at Wednesday's meeting.

He noted that New York's SAFE Act requires reporting gun thefts within 48 hours, and that nearly all deaths and woundings this year were caused by guns.

Besides guns, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn again pointed to criminal justice reforms, including bail reforms, which allow people to be on the street rather than in the Holding Center.

"I am seeing more and more individuals getting let out on felony offenses in the past year-and-a-half than in my first three years. That's definitely a fact," Flynn said. "What is not a fact is that those individuals are now going out and committing a crime. That I don't know."

Dahveen Muhammad from the Nation of Islam suggested a deeper reason.

"A lot of it is the breakdown of family values, principles, parental control and authority," Muhammad said. "A lot of family values are not as they used to be, what they should be. I don't think it's a by accident. There's a lot that contributes to the breakdown of the family and then what we're seeing now is a consequence of the breakdown of the family."

Law enforcement said new tools and new technology can put a dent in crime, like IBIS (Integrated Ballistic Identification System), which checks bullets and guns for clues on who used them.

Wednesday morning, elected officials gathered to announce $5 million to help reduce and prevent gun violence. Congress recently approved use of federally sourced state and local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan for Community Violence Intervention programs.

Buffalo is using the money to partner with the Buffalo Violence Prevention and Reduction Coalition help youth at risk of perpetrating or becoming victims of violence, support victims and families with food security and violence related repairs, offer youth intervention and mentorship, and deploy violence interrupters to mediate and reduce community violence.

A speaker wearing a yellow t-shirt stands to talk about gun violence, while other speakers sit at an outdoor table
Mike Desmond
Speaker after speaker shared their views on why the recent increase in gun violence in Buffalo.

WBFO's Mark Wozniak contributed to this story.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.