Community team: Violence in Syracuse is more than gangs

Syracuse has targeted gangs and gang activity to combat violence, but one group says to solve this problem the city needs to focus on neighborhood relationships.

Cities across the country are developing different ways to combat violence and crime within their urban landscapes. The City of Syracuse is no different. For the last 15 years the Syracuse Police Department and community members have developed programs and groups to help make the city a safer place.

People don't get shot on schedule, so my phone is going off all day, everyday, all night.
- Timothy "Noble" Jennings-Bey

Despite these initiatives, violence and crime have not changed much, and in some cases have even increased. 

The average homicide rate for Syracuse has increased 18.8 percent from 2000 to 2015, while other cities such as New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago have seen a significant decline in the average number of homicides ranging between a 28 to a 79 percent decrease in the same period, according to a report by the Center for Public Safety Initiatives.

Often, the violence and crime are quickly linked to the city’s gangs. This is evident in the Police Department’s creation of the Gang Violence Task Force in 2003 and efforts to reduce gang violence such as last year's Operation Salt City. According to the Syracuse Police Department, Operation Salt City resulted in 248 arrests between May and September of 2015. Nearly 125 of the people arrested in the operation were identified as gang members.

But one group of scholars and community members in Syracuse believe that more than just gangs perpetuate the violence and crime in the city. The Trauma Response Team is an outreach program that helps communities interact with the authorities and cope with the trauma after an act of violence tears through their neighborhood.

The program officially partnered with the City and the Syracuse Police in 2010, and since then has gathered evidence that suggests the violence does not necessarily stem from the gangs in Syracuse. 

“We believe that this is feuding and this isn’t gang violence in the way that gangs are typically understood,” Trauma Response Team member Sandra Lane said. “If you have a gang you would theoretically have a clubhouse. You would have hierarchy. You would have codes of behaviors and have a membership roster. That isn’t what is happening here.”

Typically gangs are driven by economics; they organize crime in order to gain power, make money and maintain a reputation, Trauma Response Team director Timothy “Noble” Jennings-Bey said.  That is not the case in Syracuse; the violence is driven by neighborhoods and revenge, he said.

Both Lane and Jennings-Bey compared the violence in Syracuse to the infamous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys, suggesting the violence in Syracuse is more about retaliation than gang affiliation.

“The people who are traumatized by the repeated killings: the mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, neighbors, boyfriends, girlfriends,” Lane said. “Those people are using their resentment, anger and hurt to fuel the next round of violence.”

In order to combat the issue and stop the perpetuation of violence the Trauma Response Team addresses the violence as soon as it happens. 

“We are on 24 hour call. So my phone is hooked to the 911 center,” Jennings-Bey said. “People don’t get shot on schedule, so my phone is going off all day, everyday, all night.” 

Members of the Trauma Response Team will arrive on scene and act as buffers between the different groups, team member Arnatt Haygood-El said. The program works with the community, the police and Upstate Medical Center to help maintain a line of communication between all the players involved and prevent other incidences of violence.

For example, after an episode of neighborhood violence the two groups involved could be sent to the same hospital, making the emergency waiting room a very tense and dangerous place, Jennings-Bey said. 

Haygood-El explained that in such situations, the Trauma Response Team acts as a buffer while still communicating important information to the doctors and authorities. 

The greatest strength of the program is the relationships the members have built with the community, Haygood-El said. Many of the members of the program have lived in Syracuse their whole lives and have witnessed the violence firsthand.

“We know where the people are coming from,” Haygood-El said.

Most people in the community know at least 10 people who have been murdered, Jennings-Bey said. Jennings-Bey added he knows more than 100 murder victims.

“You know that’s not natural,” he said.

2015 Crime Map

This map shows the number of reported cases of violent crimes in each of the neighborhoods across the City of Syracuse. As you scroll over each of the outlined neighborhoods you will see the number of murders, aggravated assaults, rapes and robberies recorded there during 2015. Data provided by the Syracuse Police Department

The key to ending the violence is prevention, Jennings-Bey said. Children in the community are getting wrapped up in the violence at younger and younger ages, he said. So the Trauma Response Team makes an effort to interact with the different neighborhoods before the violence happens. 

“We will go out in the community and set up a grill on one of the street corners and hand out hot dogs, burgers, apple cider to keep line of communication open,” Jennings-Bey said. “It shows people that we care and will support the community even when there isn’t an incident of violence.”

Instead of focusing on gangs, Jennings-Bey said the Trauma Response Team is working with the neighborhoods to combat the violence and achieve harmony in the different Syracuse communities.

“I just want to live in peace where people talk instead of fighting.”

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.