The meeting was led by former mayoral candidate and community activist Marlon Anderson, who believes community commitment is key to solving gun violence and conquering Albany's "gun culture." Anderson told the gathering he wanted their ideas. He circulated a clipboard around the room so meeting-goers could jot down their concerns and suggestions. The meeting came after a 2013 that saw more than half a dozen murders in the city and dozens more shootings. "...trying to engage the community in a new dialogue, regarding the continuing issue of gun violence and gun culture in the city of Albany," said Anderson, who explained he intends to use the minutes of the meeting as a blueprint to craft legislation that could effect change. "...because it's from the community where the solutions are gonna come. Not from politicians, not from police, not from courthouses."
Some of the attendees pointed out that government has spent money building new courthouses and prisons and putting more police officers on the streets. Anderson argues the Chicago-modeled SNUG program has no roots in the local community, rendering it mostly ineffective. "We got to go down to city hall and grab holda city hall and say 'you're not doing enough to solve the problem' because quite frankly, city hall is not. They're not putting no resources, they're not speaking to any opportunities, they're not doing anything.”
Anderson is calling on local government stop giving "lip service" and make a commitment to allocate money and resources - a helping hand, not a hand-out. Brother Minister Justice is an Albany activist. "It's one thing with getting actively involved in the community. It's one thing with being intellectual. It's one thing with being involved in politics. So you only have certain politicians that actually wanna get out in the community and have hands-on and get involved with the community on that level."
Albany common councilman Mark Robinson suggested: "The solution is jobs...," which prompted this response from Anderson: "The councilman spoke about job fairs. When was the last time you seen a job fair in West Hill, Arbor Hill or the South End? They have one job fair a year. And that's for state jobs. New York State."
Anderson noted that while "hundreds" of people commute into the city to go to work on a daily basis, hundreds more who live in town sit idle. One woman in the crowd said her son, a college graduate, was unable to find a job in Albany, opting to take a dishwashing job at a Colonie restaurant rather than seek public assistance.
Lack of opportunities for young people. Lack of jobs. Nothing for people to do, and nowhere to go ... Robinson conceded "It's a problem that will not go away overnight." Those in the room agreed and added that existing community centers and city libraries close their doors too early in the evening and are under-utilized, leaving teens and tweens to roam the streets. Again, Marlon Anderson. "The most that people focused on was the issues with youth and how there seems to be little access for youth to do constructive things in the city of Albany, and the concerns about the distributions of funding."
Late Thursday, Mayor Kathy Sheehan's transition team revealed Albany faces a budget deficit between $11 and $18 million, with no immediate solution to close the gap. Earlier in the afternoon, Sheehan discussed the possibility extending the hours at municipal facilities. "We have a long way to go in connecting the kids who need to be someplace with the places that are open. We've gotta iron out transportation issues. There are many places that are open later. But what I have seen out there is a real disconnect between the programs that are out there and getting to the kids and the families that need them. So when we talk about collective impact and having an approach where we're all working together, that's a perfect example. And it is something that we're working on now..."
Anderson demands accountability from city government. He plans to solicit public opinion at two more forums, one to be held downtown, the other crosstown. He expects to have a fully fleshed-out proposal in the form of draft legislation that could be submitted to Mayor Sheehan via the Common Council by early May.