We have often been critical of how the mainstream media has covered our community in the past, particularly incidents of violence. A simple google search of Far Rockaway news brings up killings, robberies, assaults, and tragedy. If mainstream media was the only source of information people turned to, they would be under the impression that Far Rockaway is a lawless place filed with “thugs”. Coverage of news like this often reinforces negative stereotypes of black youth while painting the whole community in a negative light. For so-called “bad neighborhoods”, this becomes a cycle where negative stories depicting crime or violence dominate news cycles and cover pages, leaving little room for more positive stories coming out of those same communities.
Despite the troubles we still face in Rockaway, there has been progress. In 2017, the crime rate in New York City dropped to record lows. The NYPD investigated 290 homicides citywide according to unofficial reports compared to over 300 at the same time last year. Numbers this low haven’t been seen since the 1950s. Rockaway has had a historic year as well, boasting a record low for shootings.
But we are still a community beset by senseless, heart-wrenching tragedy. We are two months into 2018 and two Rockaway teens, Trevor Rudd and Yussef Soliman, have lost their lives to gun violence - this can not go ignored. Even as I write this, I find myself conflicted. The last thing I want to do is reinforce harmful stereotypes of youth of color simply by speaking out on these incidents. But we must speak.
After some reflection, I realized that I didn’t have a problem with what Far Rockaway stories are being reported on, but more so with how these stories were being reported. Journalists and broadcasters portray Far Rockaway as stagnant. It seems like they assume that Far Rockaway has a higher amount of violence crimes because Far Rockaway is a violent place. They did not factor in the impact of things like unemployment and educational attainment on the crime rate and viewed violence as a disease in itself rather than as a symptom of something larger. What’s more frustrating is that they see us as hopeless. When these stories are being reported, they do not take the time to consider how this can be remedied. They ask for help in identifying criminals, but they don’t bother to ask what we can do to stop these people from becoming criminals in the first place.
We can not address systems that perpetuate violence in our streets until we address systemic inequality within our country, the root cause of the issue. We can not speak solve the issue of gun violence without addressing local unemployment rates, the failures of our public education system, and the lack of mental health resources and support. We must also examine the inherent biases in our society in judging a person’s criminality and prosecuting those accused of committing crimes. This aren’t issues that the NYPD or court systems can address on their own. Addressing the root causes of these problems starts at the community level.
We don’t need to read another headline like “Another teen gunned down” to realize there’s a problem in our community. And we don’t need to watch the news to feel hopeless. We need increased mental health support and recreation. We need community-based organizations to continue to step up and open their doors to our young people. We need education that supports young people’s holistic development and does not reinforce the school-to-prison pipeline. We need media where we can tell our own stories in a way that is based in solutions. We need to hear concrete ways that we can overcome the tragedies that haunt our community today.
There will be times where we must report on stories that are painful, that do not necessarily bring pride to our community, but we must report on them nonetheless and let our voices be heard. These are the issues that we must approach from a solutions based perspective, in a way that does not cast our community in the shadow of negativity, but lifts our community towards the light of a better future.