A Mother Is Shot Dead on a Playground, and a Sea of Witnesses Goes Silent
The New York Times 10/16/16
They paid no mind to the swirl of life in the housing project playground around them: men rolling blunts at a graffitied concrete table, tenants playing bingo, rap and R&B blaring from a boombox. Their mother, buoyant after a long day behind the counter at a Shake Shack, was sitting nearby on a paint-chipped bench, unspooling her dream of getting her first apartment.
Sorrows had come to her family in stampedes. First, her father and older sister were killed in an apartment fire in 1997, when Ms. White was 9. Next, in 2012, in a different tower of the same South Bronx project, her brother was lured into a stairwell and shot to death. But on this evening, Ms. White, 28, was telling her mother that after five stays in a homeless shelter, she had saved just enough to move into a place of her own.
It was just after 10 on June 11, a busy Saturday night. The rain had stopped and the air was swampy. Ms. White’s children savored being outside their grandmother’s stuffy first-floor apartment, above the building’s boiler room.
“Five minutes, five minutes, five minutes!” the children kept calling. Again and again Ms. White and her mother, Gola White, caved: “O.K., five more minutes and we’re going inside the house.”
The first gunshot exploded from the walkway, between two London plane trees.
“Mommy, the kids!” Ms. White screamed.
“The kids!” her mother yelled back.
Ms. White bolted from the bench, her body low to the hopscotch court as she reached for Damian Jr., Jessiah and Danielle — 3, 5 and 9 — who were already scurrying toward her.
A bullet whistled past the play set, passed through her left breast and pierced her heart. Ms. White’s brothers ran out of their apartment and cradled her as she took her last breaths.
She joined the ranks of the unintended, as detectives call those who bleed over someone else’s beef.
In the days that followed, at marches and speeches and basketball games in Ms. White’s memory, everyone promised that the outcome would be different — that in 2016, with a plunge in crime freeing up police resources, a man could not shoot a young mother dead on a crowded playground and walk free.
But tenants of the project, the John Adams Houses, say they got what they have come to expect in one of the poorest communities in the country: public safety on a budget.
A $2,500 reward for tips, the bare minimum. Detectives shouldering caseloads that, by July, already exceeded what the department’s chiefs considered manageable over an entire year. Promises by a local police commander to look into adding tower lights at the playground, made more difficult by the fact that those he had — just two — were being used in other high-risk spots.
Detectives, in turn, were frustrated that even the killing of an innocent woman did not get the tip line ringing. Wanted posters with pictures of the gunman and his getaway car were torn off lampposts and trees. The young men at the playground claimed not to know a thing. “Y’all far from the hunch,” one said in an interview, and left it at that, a line detectives heard again and again.
The playground is deserted now. Tenants organized a nighttime check-in system in one of the high-rises to keep out strangers with guns.
And Gola White, who raised eight children in the Adams Houses, all of them homebodies with big, brown eyes, is trying in vain to move out before she loses another.
With weariness more than anger, she said that the government skimps on public safety for black families like hers. She said she had asked the police about the $2,500 reward, which was not one-tenth the reward offered this summer after a young white woman was killed while jogging in Queens, generating weeks of intense news coverage.
“I think it’s a racist thing — I can’t beat around it,” Gola White said. “If you look at things on TV and somebody says, ‘I need this donated,’ if they’re white, they’ll get it faster than a black person.”
Her daughter’s fiancé, Damian Bell, was stung by an encounter about three weeks after her killing when he asked two patrol officers just outside the Adams Houses for an update. He said they did not recognize Ms. White’s name.
“They feel like we don’t care, so they don’t care,” Diana Void, Mr. Bell’s mother, said of city officials. “But it’s not everybody that doesn’t care. There’s a lot of us who do care.”
Few Clues and Leads
The crimes, the rivalries and, often enough, the gang or drug ties in a murder victim’s past usually fill the first pages of the manila homicide file. Before forensic evidence is back from the lab, that history acts as a road map for detectives. Ms. White was a blank page.
The crime scene did not reveal any better clues.
Witnesses heard anywhere from three to six shots, but detectives found only a single bullet: the one in Ms. White’s chest. They thought it was a .38 caliber, but the bullet was so deformed that they could not say for sure. There were no fresh nicks on the trees, the jungle gyms or the church wall behind the playground that detectives noticed. No guns in the garbage chutes. And no bullet casings on the pavement or in the grass, which indicated that the weapon was a revolver.
Virtually the only sign detectives found of anyone having been killed there was Ms. White’s black sneaker lying near the bench.
Detective John Caruso and a team of 40th Precinct investigators set out to find surveillance video of the gunman fleeing. Some witnesses said he had made a sharp left onto East 152nd Street. Others were sure it was a sharp right. Detective Caruso pulled video from areas in both directions but found no trace of the black-hooded gunman or his pearly white sneakers.
Their search was delayed by a problem technology could not solve. Many of the bodegas and barbershops in the neighborhood were closed the day after the murder, for the Puerto Rican Day Parade, so the police could not immediately access their cameras…
As tragic and disgusting this lady's murder is, it's something else. Typical.
In Houston we suffer 225-250 murders a year, although 2015 was bad. We had just short of 300 murders and most were, get this, black on black.
There is something else. Unlike the "witnesses" in the Mike Brown shooting, the people who were sitting outside, with nothing else to do in New York, who could not make themselves famous for a while or blame a cop saw...nothing.
I have an intersection in my patrol district that we routinely get murders, stabbings, shootings at. The neighborhood is filled with people with nothing to do but sit, play dice, engage in narcotics and prostitution, and talk on their phones. And when someone comes up, an injured or killed friend or family member, they have seen...nothing.
In neighborhoods like this, police are not the solution and or assistance, we are the invaders, the "laws!" If we chase a suspect thought this area, it's not unheard of the residents screaming "cops!" or "laws!" and taking in perfect strangers, just to keep them away from us. Ir may be a case of them legitimately scared of these criminals and if they don't take them in, the crooks will remember. Or it may be a case of these people opposing the law.
In the case above, no one will protest, they statement in the story notwithstanding. You will not see the US attorney or the Attorney General or Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton on the scene demanding justice for this woman. The odds are the killers are black, they will never be caught and three kids will be raised by grandparents or aunts and uncles or the state.
And until the people who live in these areas say, "I've had enough!" and start to let the cops know who are the shooters, it will never change.
Sorry Ms. White you won't see your kids grow up. Hopefully they turn out better than many other kids.