James Solano was described by his family and friends as “energetic” — a young man who always had his mind on the future. He was heavily involved in a local after-school program, and was widely beloved by his counselors.
On Dec. 23 of last year, just two days before Christmas, he was shot in the neck and killed outside a bodega in Morrisania. He was just a few blocks from his home.
James was more than a statistic. He had a unique life, and his entire family and community has been left devastated by his untimely death. But his senseless murder was part of a disturbing trend in our city that came amid an already-difficult year. The week before James was killed, Joseph Evans was shot and killed while getting a sandwich at a local deli in Staten Island. The week before that, two men were shot outside a corner bodega in East New York. Thankfully, they only sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
But as someone who has experienced a shooting first-hand and lived to tell about it can tell you, a bullet doesn’t just tear through skin and bone. It rips a hole in the fabric of the community that can take years, if not decades, to repair.
In the first eight months of the pandemic, according to a recent report from The New York Times, there was a 63 percent rise in shootings inside or in front of bodegas and corner stores. Bodega burglaries have also tripled. The violence is by no means limited to bodegas. We are witnessing an overall increase in a brazen kind of violence that happens in broad daylight, right in front of us. In 2020, murders increased by 40 percent from 2019 to 437, the highest number since 2011. Shootings almost doubled from 754 in 2019 to 1,493 in 2020, the highest since 2006. The victims of this tide of bloodshed are almost always young men of color.
We may feel powerless, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying economic fallout, to do anything to stop the carnage we’re seeing on our streets. At times, even I as a public official have been tempted toward cynicism and despair. But there are basic steps we can take as a City, right now, to ensure this year is safer for all New York residents, particularly for the residents of Black and brown communities who have borne the brunt of the violence.
First, the fact that many of these shootings are happening in broad daylight suggests that people who want to commit violent acts are not afraid of being caught. That’s why I believe we need to immediately reinvent the NYPD’s anti-crime unit, which was disbanded last year, as an anti-gun unit. We must also scale up Operation Safe Shopper, a pioneering program our office has spearheaded in business corridors across Brooklyn, that installs more cameras on participating businesses and connects them directly to the local precinct to streamline investigations and help catch violent offenders more quickly.
Second, much of this violence has been concentrated in low-income, Black and brown communities around our city like Morrisania, East New York, and Tompkinsville. So we must also shift far more police to these areas. But we also need to engage our entire ecosystem of public safety in this effort, by doubling funding to the Crisis Management System groups and violence interrupters that we stood with shortly after James Solano’s murder.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, much of the violence we are seeing is happening outside bodegas and the other few public places people can go during the pandemic. So it is critical we allow building owners to tax-exempt the costs of any security improvements to bodegas and similar storefronts, including cameras, sensors, and other safety measures.
James Solano’s tragic death, and the deaths of so many others we lost last year, cannot be in vain. As a father of a young Black man, I am tired of hearing about another person of color shot in our city and checking the headlines to make sure my son hasn’t been taken from me in a senseless act of violence. With a new year upon us, it’s time to put an end to that anxiety that I and so many other parents across our city feel.
Eric Adams is borough president of Brooklyn. He served 22 years in the New York City Police Department (NYPD), retiring at the rank of captain, as well as represented District 20 in the New York State Senate from 2006 until his election as borough president in 2013.