In the South Bronx, cyclical gun violence is met with uncomfortable numbness and a desire to leave

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While an orange wave of South Bronx students called for no more gun violence in their community, an uncomfortable numbness has settled in for Bronx residents yearning to leave the city behind.
Photo Adrian Childress

Two months ago, a mere three blocks from the University Prep High School campus in the South Bronx, three students were unintended targets of a reckless daytime shooting. Unfortunately, one stray bullet fired from 17-year-old Jeremiah Ryan’s ghost gun ended 16-year-old Angellyh Yambo’s life, leaving a void in her family and her community that can’t be filled with thoughts and prayers.

On Wednesday, Yambo’s family, along with roughly 1500-plus students and teachers marched roughly 15 blocks of South Bronx streetspace calling for an end to gun violence in their community as well as political accountability for a decade-long drought of federal gun control policy in the wake of America’s long-standing issue with mass shootings.

“As an educator, as a counselor, as a mother that hardest thing to do is break that cycle of violence and it’s hard to cope with the death of bright souls like Angie,” said Francesca DiBlasi, Yambo’s school counselor. “It starts within your own home, your own community and your own neighborhoods. But also, people at the top, need to address the legal ramification for these actions, while also taking these illegal guns out of the hands of people who are killing our children.”

Led by the family of 16-year-old Angellyh Yambo, Wednesday’s protest through the streets of the South Bronx put a focus on the causalities of cyclical, uncontrolled gun violence. Photo Adrian Childress

Ryan is now facing up to 15 years in prison on second-degree murder charges.

Despite vows from Bronx pols such as U.S Rep. Ritchie Torres and Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson to interrupt the cycle of senseless gun violence in Bronx neighborhoods, an uncomfortable mood of numbness and desire to leave New York City has already settled in for a strong population of the borough’s southernmost residents.

South Bronx students such as 17-year-olds Julie Etwarwin and Jaden McLean told the Bronx Times Wednesday that they’ve become increasingly “desensitized” and “numb” to the shootings that killed their classmate Yambo two months ago and also took the life of 11-year-old Kyhara Tay last month in Foxhurst.

“When (Angellyh) lost her life, I was genuinely hurt for a second but then I got over it pretty quickly, only because this occurs pretty frequently,” said McLean. “I’m low-key numb to it. You don’t want to feel that way, but people lose their life all the time here, and you really only worry about how you’ll make it home.”

A Washington Post analysis of CDC data on gun violence found that there were significant racial disparities when it came to gun deaths among children and adolescents. In particular, Black children and adolescents were the only group that had higher gun-related deaths than motor vehicle deaths.

McClean said after he graduates in 2024, he hopes to move “far from” the Bronx and NYC to Southern pastures, in search of stability and safety. Etwarwin, a “city girl at heart” hopes to move to a more suburban scene after graduation, citing the threat of violence making the city uninhabitable both mentally and physically.

“My school has metal detectors and the reality sets in, this isn’t a safe space. Someone tried to bring a gun to my school and so every incident you think ‘that could be me,” said Etwarwin. “We shouldn’t be victimized in our schools and it’s on the government to pass better laws to protect us … but until then, I don’t see myself staying here if I want to be safe.”

For the first time in the nation’s history, guns overtook motor vehicle crashes in 2020 as the leading cause of death in the 1-19 age group. Overall, two-thirds of the roughly 4,000 gun-related deaths in 2020 were homicides, 30% were suicides, 3% were accidental and 2% were of an undetermined cause.

According to vitalcity.org which tracks the number of shootings by NYC police precincts, in 2020 and 2021, six of the city’s 10 highest shooting prone neighborhoods reside in the Bronx: Grand Concourse had around 70 shootings incidents, followed by Morrisania (66), Mott Haven (63), Wakefield (59), Belmont/East Tremont (56) and the Southeast Bronx (49).

University Prep High School students express fear, frustration and fortitude in Wednesday’s march against gun violence that started on Saint Ann’s Avenue. Photo Adrian Childress

According to NYPD data, as of Wednesday, 216 of the city’s 626 shootings this year occurred in the Bronx. In all of 2021, there were 226 Bronx shootings.

“We often talk about the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, but we need to talk about the shootings we have in the Bronx every single day,” said Gibson, whose voice cracked with discernible emotion and frustration. “We have to talk about it because we are killing our future.”

The Gun Violence Archive, an independent data collection organization, defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, excluding the shooter — it is estimated that there are just over 11 mass shootings a week in the U.S.

As Gibson continues her evergreen pleas for the mass removal of guns from Bronx streets and Torres heads to the nation’s Capitol to vote on a federal measure that would ban ghost guns this week, Bronx students are continuing to find ways to try and keep themselves safe.

“The reality of life here is, survive or die. Some find a way to survive by going to school in another area, but some got people looking out for them,” said a University Prep ninth-grader, who did not wish to be identified. “I’m gang-affiliated, I guess you can say. I got a gun because I need someone and something watching my back.”

Despite the frequency and numbness to local gun violence, the victims of cyclical gun violence are irreplaceable. The Yambo family only had 16 years of Angellyh’s life to reminisce on and her friends, much less than that.

For South Bronx parents to avoid the cruel fate of outliving their child, life away from underinvested and underresourced neighborhoods grappling with crime seems like the only way to safety.

According to NYPD data, 216 of the city’s shootings this year have happened in the Bronx. In all of 2021, there were 226 Bronx shootings. Photo Adrian Childress

“It’s a never-ending cycle of kid gets in fight, kids get gun, two kids lose their life and as a parents when do you just pack up an leave?” Sandy Ortiz, who said two of her children at nearby South Bronx schools have been bullied and threatened with a gun in recent months, told the Bronx Times. “What kind of parent am I if these schools in the Bronx, these cops in the Bronx or no one in the Bronx can keep my kids safe?”

New York’s gun laws — already some of the strongest gun-control laws in the nation following Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 — received additional strengthening last week through a package of bills passed by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The new laws raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 for anyone to buy semi-automatic weapons and bolster the reporting requirements of social media companies when they are alerted to credible threats of violence.

These previously unclosed loopholes, gun control advocates say, allowed a white supremacist who shot and killed 10 at a Buffalo supermarket on May 14 to slip through the state’s Red Flag statute that should have detected his social media rants and led to the removal of his weapons.

The bills make up the most sweeping package in the nation in the wake of the shooting deaths of 19 children and two teachers on May 24 at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the aforementioned mass shooting in Buffalo.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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