Nearly 300 people rallied in Albany's Washington Park Saturday, at the culmination of "A Walk To Cure Violence." The city has seen a spike in shootings this year.
The walk through West Hill began at the corner of Henry Johnson Boulevard and Clinton Avenue Saturday morning. It was hosted by Albany Cure Violence, formerly known by the acronym SNUG - GUNS spelled backwards. The group has been transitioning away from that name in order to embrace a public health model fashioned after the Chicago Cease Fire program's evolution into Chicago Cure Violence.
Elizabeth Campisi is the Special Projects Director with the NIH-funded research Center for the Elimination of Minority Health Disparities at the University at Albany. About a hundred UAlbany students were active in the Walk To Cure Violence. "The students came to me wanting internships, so we found opportunities with Cure Violence, and instead of doing a formal internship one by one, they came to me with a project to have a march against violence."
Claudia Melendez is co-president of Doctors 4 Hope, who are mostly minority students aiming to go into health professions. Melendez reflects on Saturday's march. "It was really important for the city of Albany itself, and us as students. You know we live in the city of Albany for ten months out of the year, but we don’t really have an active role in it. So I think it was really important to bring both communities together and to show that we're here and we know that gun violence is a big problem and we're ready to take action against it."
There have been dozens of shootings in the city of Albany in recent years, many blamed on gangs. Some shootings that, at the time, seemed like catalysts for change have become faded memories. Kathina Thomas, a 10-year-old city girl, was killed by a stray bullet on First Street May 29, 2008. A few months later, in October, 22-year-old SUNY student Richard Bailey was shot dead on an Albany street a block away from Washington Park. The student-marchers were not familiar with either case.
Authorities believe the majority of the 35 or so shootings over the past year may be linked to skirmishes involving rival gangs in Albany and Troy. Albany Police Chief Steven Krokoff: "We're continuing to work together with our partners. We're hoping to continue to push that number down. I'm actually positive that we're going to. It's just a matter of whether or not we're going to get cooperation. One way or another we're going to accomplish our mission."
Police say the gang rivalry is apparently behind five people being shot early Sunday morning on Fourth Street in downtown Troy. Troy officials say the mayor and police chief plan to discuss the shootings as soon as they can synchronize their calendars.
Back at the rally, some students marched; others met the walkers, who were joined by 5th ward Common Council Member Mark Robinson, who lost a son to gun violence, and community-activist Marlon Anderson at the Washington Park Lakehouse, where Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan addressed the issue.
UAlbany anthropology professor Lawrence Schell is the director of the Center For The Elimination of Minority Health Disparities. He stresses that street violence is a public health issue... "... that disproportionately affects minorities and other disadvantaged populations, especially in urban centers, and Albany doees qualify, despite being not an especially large urban center, but we have significant problems with violence here, and mortality from it, and we need to stop it."
Schell says the student group is looking forward to participating in future anti-violence events.