News

York struggles for answers amid wave of shootings

Written by Sam Ruland/The York Daily Record | Oct 9, 2018 12:12 PM
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At a rally in York on Sunday for homicide victims, Raymond "Breeze" Byrd of Pedal 4 Peace joins Anthony Jones Jr., father of homicide victim Dezmen Jones, and Pedal 4 Peace's Brandt Kingsley. (Ted Czech/The York Daily Record)

'And if you're not shocked by it each time you see the news that there's been a shooting or that somebody died, then you're part of the problem.' -- Andrew Gonzalez

(York) -- Angela Thompson is slowly learning to breathe again. 

It's been 12 days since her 15-year-old grandson Dezmen Jones was killed on York's streets, and she's been keeping track of the days, counting each one as it goes by.

"I mean the days just seem to go by so slowly now," Thompson said. "And I don't know what else to do. It's hard not to focus on the pain. I'm still carrying that feeling with me of when I got that awful phone call -- the phone call that Dezmen was dead."

She dropped her phone instantly and screamed, Thompson said. In that moment, everything stopped. She knew her family would be changed forever.

On the night of Sept. 26, Jones was shot near the 600 block of West Princess Street by 16-old-year Luis Joshua Vicente-Ramirez, according to York City Police. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds and was found by police conscious, lying in front of a parked car in a carport, the affidavit states.

Jones was taken to York Hospital, where he died later that night. 

"And how do you breathe again after this?" Thompson said, her voice and shoulders tightening up. 

The answer?

"You don't."

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Mayor Micheal Helfrich speaks about unity and the 10,000 Acts of Kindness event on the front steps of the York County Administrative Center, Friday, June 29, 2018. The 10,000 Acts of Kindness is a year-long initiative to help build unity in York County. (Ty Lohr, York Daily Record)

'I'm not the only person outraged by this'

Mayor Michael Helfrich said he had been hopeful.

The city had gone almost three months without a homicide. Considering that York registered 16 homicides last year -- a particularly bad year -- a three-month stretch without any homicides is a good stretch.  

"We have to reflect on what's going on," Helfrich said.

Helfrich has put an emphasis on reducing gun violence in the city, calling bloodshed in York's streets "unacceptable and heartbreaking." 

Since the beginning of September, York City Police have investigated at least nine shootings, two of which resulted in three deaths: 

  • Sept. 3: 17-year-old wounded. Suspect is 18 years old.
  • Sept. 9: 12-year-old wounded. Three people are considered responsible for the incident -- a 19-year-old, 18-year-old, and 17-year-old.
  • Sept. 10: 34-year-old wounded. Suspect unknown.
  • Sept. 10: 17-year-old wounded. Suspect unknown.
  • Sept. 11: 18-year-old wounded. Suspect unknown.
  • Sept. 12: 19-year-old wounded. This incident is related to the Sept. 9 shooting, in which the suspects are 19, 18 and 17.
  • Sept. 26: 28-year-old and 15-year-old killed. Suspect is 16.
  • Sept. 29: 45-year-old wounded. Suspect unknown.
  • Oct. 7: 24-year-old killed. Suspect is 22.

Helfrich said he once would have been shocked by these shootings -- partially because of the sheer frequency of such crimes, but more so related to the age of the gunmen. York's suspects seem to be getting younger and younger.

But today, Helfrich said, shootings involving teens are common. 

While the immediate solutions may not be so clear, Helfrich said that education and providing opportunities to young people in the community are needed to address the long-term problems. 

At what point that change will come though, Helfrich's unsure.

Latisha Hampton has lived in the city of York all her life. She's 32 years old now and a mother herself. Her perspective has certainly changed over the years, but so has York, in her opinion. 

She said the community no longer offers children the same outlets she had growing up, and violence is what children turn to because they have nothing else to do.

"It wasn't like this when I was growing up," Hampton said. "Now, every time your kids go outside, you have to think, 'Are they going to get shot today? Is today going to be the last time I see their face?'"

Every time a teen is shot or killed, Hampton said, the fear immediately begins about who will be targeted next. 

"Nobody wants to live like that."

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York youth minister Felicia Dennis speaks at Sunday's rally for peace and homicide victims in York. (Ted Czech/The York Daily Record)

It feels to her like the city doesn't care that kids are killing kids, Hampton said. 

"I'm not the only person outraged by this -- I can't be," she added. "It's horrible." 

And she isn't alone. Hampton was joined by a group of people Sunday afternoon who all shared her rage.

They marched on foot or rode on bicycles from the site of the city's latest shooting on South Richland Avenue, to the rear alley where Jones and Jameel Murray, 28, were killed. It was a call for peace and for an end to violence. 

"The community needs to come together," Takia Lovett-Hameed said. "To heal and to grow."

She recently moved back to York County -- to Emigsville -- from North Carolina. The 41-year-old grew up in York and graduated from York High in 1995.

But the York she returned to, she said, is different -- "it's worse."

"There's a lot more killings and shootings, and they're more rapid now," Lovett-Hameed said. She can't recall such violence occurring among the youth when she was a teenager in these neighborhoods. 

"Crime happens everywhere, and it happens to every generation," Lovett-Hameed said, "but it wasn't us in high school killing each other. It's like they have no sense of value for their lives or their peers."

Helfrich said for some of these kids, that's just it. At 10 or 11 years old, some kids already have convinced themselves that their lives aren't worth anything.

"It's what they hear," Helfrich said. "They're told their life isn't worth anything. They hear it from their parents, or from people around them, and that's when they fall in with the wrong groups of people."

That's sort of what happened to Andrew Gonzalez. The 32-year-old said he first got in trouble with the law when he was only 13 years old. He said he never had guidance growing up, so he naturally became attracted to things that weren't good for him.

"I was a victim of the culture and society I grew up in," said Gonzalez, of West Princess Street. 

Maybe that's why, Gonzalez said, each time he hears about a shooting in his neighborhood, it breaks his heart. The crime rates represent more than just numbers and statistics, they're a representation of a life lost. Someone giving up on themselves. 

"And if you're not shocked by it each time you see the news that there's been a shooting or that somebody died," Gonzalez said, "then you're part of the problem."

Solutions start at home

It wasn't until he became a father himself that Gonzalez was motivated to change his life. He didn't want his son to grow up the same way he did. 

"I knew I had to be a leader," he added.

So while Gonzalez said it's hard to find the exact root of the problem, he believes the solutions start in the home. It's about the conversations parents are having with their kids every day. 

"Some parents are ignorant to it," Gonzalez said. "It's easy to get caught up in work and putting food on the table, but at the end of the day it's your responsibility as a parent to educate your children."

Gonzalez said simply teaching your child that there are other pathways in life besides violence, is a major step -- getting them involved in a sport, a hobby, could be that liberation they need. 

"It takes a village to raise a child," Gonzalez said, "Or at least that's how the saying goes, so we all have to be doing or part." 

But some parents just don't care, Hampton said. They dismiss the violence or worse, she said, they encourage it, giving their children access to weapons or sending their children out to sell drugs to pay the bills.

It's a cycle that doesn't stop. 

People don't care until it affects them, Hampton said, it's not real to most people until someone they know dies.

Hampton doesn't think the city has time to wait around though. Changes need to be made and they need to be made now, Hampton said -- they need to be effective.

"This is real. This is all we see everyday," Hampton said. "We see the police lights, and we hear the sirens. It's gotten too close to our homes and we need to stand up and take our neighborhoods back."

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between York Daily Record and WITF. 

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