Nothing seems to put a significant dent in Buffalo’s homicide rate from year to year.
Not the Buffalo Police Department’s extensive efforts to break up violent gangs. Not city leaders’ tough talk about bringing killers to justice. Not all the well-intentioned stop-the-violence pleas and prayer vigils, like the one held Tuesday in Niagara Square.
Homicide patterns have a life of their own, often defying the other crime trends in the city. A spate of shootings in the last four days underscores that grim reality.
At 12:50 p.m. Tuesday, at about the same time the prayer vigil was being held, three young men narrowly avoided death when a gunman sprayed bullets at the intersection of Fillmore Avenue and Rodney Street, police reported. The young men suffered non-life-threatening wounds.
Others have not been so lucky of late.
Late Monday night, Langfield Housing Project residents called police to report hearing what sounded like a shotgun blast. Then, shortly after dawn Tuesday, a man in his 20s was found on a rear porch, dead from an apparent shotgun blast to the upper body, according to Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards.
Late Saturday night, Ronald L. Jones, 23, was placing an infant inside a car on Norway Park when he was shot and killed, police authorities said. And about seven hours earlier, at 3:30 p.m., 16-year-old Kelmyne Jones was fatally shot during a territorial dispute between two groups of young people on the 200 block of Northland Avenue.
The recent violence brought the city’s tally of homicides for the year to 21. And considering that crime rates typically rise during the summer months, the city appears to be keeping pace with last year’s total number of homicides – 50.
But that’s not to say the pattern couldn’t change. The numbers of Buffalo homicide victims have dipped and risen the last few years, from 37 killings in 2008 to 60 in 2009.
The city’s five most recent homicides occurred in the last 16 days, though police officials are quick to point out that violent and other crimes have declined.
“The Buffalo Police Department has worked very hard to reduce all crime in recent years,” Buffalo Police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said. “But in the summer months, crime tends to spike all over the country.”
Up to 75 activists gathered in Niagara Square starting at noon Tuesday for an interfaith prayer circle that helped personalize the otherwise cold statistic of homicides, even as police investigators began the work of uncovering who was behind the latest violent crimes.
Much of the attention of those at the event went to Diamond J. Toler, who was gunned down in a drive-by shooting June 24 at East Ferry Street and Stevens Avenue. Another person shot in that attack survived.
Toler was buried one day before her 21st birthday, friends say.
“Look at the senseless violence,” said Marshay Miller, Toler’s childhood friend and organizer of Tuesday’s prayer circle. “This is a young lady who was minding her own business, and she’s gunned down. She probably never saw it coming. This is a young woman who wanted to do something with her life.
Activists and concerned citizens offered a variety of solutions to the violence Tuesday.
The Rev. Frederick A. Gelsey Sr., whose son Frederick was gunned down in December 2011, talked about teaching young people about the horrors of homicide, the same way many young people have been taught about the risks from AIDS and cigarettes.
“We need to educate about homicide,” Gelsey said. “We need to raise them up as young kids, knowing homicide is bad. It’s too late once they’re of age, out on the streets.”
Morgan Dunbar of Buffalo Save the Kids, a group whose mission is to empower the community by educating people about the underlying oppressions that cause poverty and crime, echoed the pastor’s emphasis on the youth.
“Basically, kids are carrying guns and knives, and they’re ready to defend their dignity and respect in the streets,” Dunbar said. “They’re seeing other young people who are struggling the same way with poverty and abuse at home or alcoholism in the family. They’re dealing with the same things. But their anger is being misdirected toward other people with the same conflicts.”
Samuel A. Herbert, a longtime city activist, took another tack, imploring the Niagara Square crowd to take action by cooperating with police in homicide investigations.
“It is hip to snitch, when kids are killing kids and then coming back to the community to brag about it,” he said. “Black folks know who did it, and they aren’t saying anything about it. That has to stop. It is hip to snitch.”
Details about motives and suspects in the recent crimes were scant. Speaking broadly about crimes of this nature, DeGeorge said, “Most of the incidents, including the recent ones, are not random. They are targeted.”
Police did give a description of the gunman in the Tuesday afternoon shooting at Fillmore and Rodney: a heavyset black male with dreadlocks, wearing shorts and a black T-shirt.
Anyone with information on any of the recent shootings is asked to call or text the department’s anonymous hotline at 847-2255.