Near Westside Initiative: Father’s Day violence at odds with neighborhood’s rise

An open letter to the Greater Syracuse Community:

The violence that took place at 11 p.m. Father’s Day on Otisco and Tioga streets in the Near Westside is a tragedy for those directly impacted, those who witnessed it, the city of Syracuse and particularly for the residents who have been working to make their neighborhood a safer, healthier and happier place to raise their children.

While the videos you have seen tell the sad truth that guns are too easy to come by, and that gangs are ruthless, those images do not paint an accurate picture of life in the Near Westside.

The team of partners that comprises the Near Westside Initiative has worked steadily to improve communication between residents and the Syracuse Police Department, reduce crime, create safe spaces for children to play and increase investment, jobs and the income diversity of this neighborhood of concentrated poverty.

You can see the more obvious results by driving down West Street. King + King Architects, Steripharma, WCNY, Proliteracy, the Lincoln Building, a revitalized Nojaim’s Market, St. Joseph’s Westside Clinic and Saltquarters have all emerged in less than a decade from the weed-infested, abandoned sites and buildings of the neighborhood’s industrial past. There also are 50 new homeowners in the Near Westside and some of the greenest homes in the U.S.A. You can see this progress from the street, as well.

What you cannot see from your car are the quieter efforts. You cannot see the teamwork that drives a group of neighbors outside in below-zero temperatures to shovel sidewalks. You cannot see the residents who have taken training to become “Peacemakers” to help resolve neighborhood disputes. You cannot see the portfolios that neighborhood teenagers are submitting for entrance to college because their new neighbors in the Lincoln Building showed them how.

You may be surprised to know that for seven straight years, crime in the Near West Side went down dramatically. (Since 2007 the percentage of shots fired calls has declined by 43.1 percent.)

Some of this is due to improved communication between residents and the Syracuse Police. This work isn’t easy for anyone but we are proud of what has been accomplished to date. In 2012 the Gifford Street Press, with the assistance of Professor Steve Parks from Syracuse University’s Writing Program, published a brutally honest compilation of stories from both residents and members of the SPD on police/community relations. This created a platform of trust that is not in evidence on the Father’s Day videos. We know that we all have to do better.

The NWSI basketball games in Skiddy Park and the Shonnard Street Boys and Girls Club where the SCPD and SCFD played alongside neighborhood youth have helped. And the fact that the NWSI multicultural Block Party, hosting 1,500 people, has been held for six years without a single incident indicates progress has been made.

We wish that videos of this neighborhood party, celebrating all cultures, were the images that the people of this region held in their minds of the Near Westside.

The day in May 2012 when we dedicated the new Paul Seymour Playground and Jim Boeheim basketball courts in Skiddy Park, we wanted and expected to put behind us the veil of violence that had hung over that park for decades. Until this year, we were making progress.

Rather than placing blame or bemoaning what has happened to set us back, we have the following requests of the City of Syracuse, the SCPD and the community at large.

• Without any further delay, build the new police headquarters in Skiddy Park that the neighbors have asked for and the NWSI has raised the funds to construct.

• Join the NWSI in a collaborative effort with residents to reset community policing policies and strategies on the Near Westside. Invite third-party experts from the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center and the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice to diagnose what happened on Father’s Day and seek new solutions.

• Seek the resources and expertise needed to make better use of all available technologies and camera systems to encourage resident participation in reporting and deterring crime.

• Join us for an ecumenical liturgy at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 30, at Skiddy Park, led by St. Lucy’s Church, and express your support for our community.

Maarten Jacobs
Executive director

Brian Anderson
Board Chairman

On behalf of the Near Westside Initiative Board of Directors