Latimer: “Gun violence is not a major problem in Westchester County.” CE Announces New Gun Violence Task Force

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Westchester County Launches Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce

Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Westchester County Legislator Shanae Williams are joining together to announce the Westchester County Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce (WCGVPT). The task force, which will fall under the Office of the County Executive, will be aimed at unifying efforts across Westchester County to combat gun violence.

Latimer said: “Gun violence is not a major problem in Westchester County, but one death or injury due to gun violence is one too many and we are focused on getting to the root of the problem.  The WCGVPT will serve as a critical platform to address the root causes of gun violence while advocating for effective prevention strategies.”

Gun violence may not be a major problem in the County of Westchester, but that is not the reality in some of the southern cities in the county, like Mount Vernon, where there was a double homicide at a Mount Vernon smoke shop just a week earlier on Tuesday, March 19th.

The Southern District of New York said that five men — Ilario Contreras, Jerpi Diaz-Feliz, Jhoan Diaz-Feliz, Victor Jimenez and Joseph Perez — were charged with murder in furtherance of drug trafficking. If convicted on that charge alone, the five men could face life in prison or even the death penalty, because they are being charged with a federal offense. They are also charged with conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act Robbery, conspiracy to engage in drug trafficking, and discharging a gun in furtherance of drug trafficking, according to prosecutors. The latter two charges also come with potential life sentences.

“Senseless gun violence has been a major problem in Mount Vernon, where Latimer grew up, over the past few years, he has been County Executive. To say it’s not a major problem in the county dismisses the ongoing problem in cities like Mount Vernon,” one resident shared.

Westchester County may have some of the lowest rates in gun violence, but there is still a problem, especially in the Black and Brown Communities in the County.

Newly elected Legislator Shanae Williams — whose idea it was according to Latimer — admits gun violence is also still an issue in Yonkers, the third largest city in New York State.

“Gun violence is a subject that is very important to me and is very personal to me. In the height of the pandemic in 2020, a New Rochelle man shot five rounds at Yonkers Police Officers in an attempt to avoid arrest. This happened in broad daylight. This happened with children and families walking around Getty Square. This happened right outside of my home and thankfully no one was hurt and that man was arrested, but this made me realize that we do have a problem with gun violence in our community, in Yonkers and in Westchester. And as many of us realize its a public health crisis. In New York City and city and states around the country, it is a deadly issue,” Williams said at the press conference. “I am thrilled to partner with County Executive George Latimer and his team in this effort and look forward to working with stakeholders to identify solutions that will eliminate gun violence.”

Legislator James Nolan, whose brother Mike was killed as a result of senseless gun violence on September 18, 2015, while he is happy the County Executive is being proactive and agrees with the need for a task force, knows gun violence is a problem nationwide, even in Westchester County.

“As someone who lost their brother to illegal gun violence, I know what its impact on a family and a community looks like,” Legislator Nolan shared. “I appreciate how proactive the County Executive is being by creating this task force. In 2021, the United States experienced record gun violence. It is high time for all of us to come together and find a solution to this issue. I look forward to doing anything I can to help make the task force successful.”

County Legislator Terry Clements also feels the implementation of the WCGVPT will be an important next step in preventing gun violence.

“I approach the issue of gun violence prevention from two perspectives — as Chair of the Board’s Committee on Public Safety, and as an educator committed to the safety of Westchester’s students. The Westchester County Department of Public Safety, expertly run by Acting Commissioner Terrance Raynor, utilizes Community Resource Officers (CROs) and School Resource Officers (SROs) to ensure safety in our schools and community. Establishing a Gun Violence Safety Task Force will expand on the good work we have already been doing, and will be an important next step towards preventing gun violence on our streets, and in our homes and schools,” Clements shared.

The WCGVPT will work with organizations that are currently making strides in rooting out gun violence and foster collaboration across these agencies, leveraging each other’s resources.  The task force aims to identify and implement best practices to prevent and ultimately eliminate gun violence in Westchester County.

“The safety and well-being of every resident in Westchester is our top priority. Through the establishment of the Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce, we are taking proactive steps to address this critical issue head-on. By bringing together diverse voices and expertise, we will develop comprehensive strategies to create safer communities for all,” Latimer said in the statement emailed to Black Westchester.

According to the statement, the goals of the WCGVPT:

·         Change the social conditions and address the influences that lead young people to resort to gun violence.

·         Foster collaboration across all agencies and levels of government, including county, town, village, city and law enforcement agencies.

·         Facilitate collaboration between nonprofit and for-profit businesses already engaged in this work.

·         Engage the community in meaningful dialogue, including victims and perpetrators of gun violence.

·         Develop prevention and intervention strategies tailored to eliminate gun violence.

·         Advocate for the necessary resources to support these efforts.

The task force will consist of volunteers representing various backgrounds. Joaquin Dean CEO/Founder of Ruff Ryders and Ruff Riders To The Rescue, a community 24-hour watch group, was among the supporters of the new WCGVPT. He spoke briefly at the press conference, “Less words, more action, that’s what we [Ruff Ryders To Rescue] are all about.”

Jesse Van Lew, the co-founder of Save Mount Vernon is one of the first to get the call when incidents of senseless violence take place in the city. He was taken aback by CE Latimer’s claim that “gun violence is not a major problem in Westchester.”

“It is RIDICULOUS for the county executive to say we don’t have a gun problem when Save Mount Vernon begged the Mayor and the county for a gun buyback because if all of the shootings in Mt.Vernon, it’s a slap in the face of the African Americans living in this city, to say the least, were the one’s dealing with it. I guess he doesn’t watch News 12 !!!,” van Lew shared with Black Westchester.

Congressman Jamaal Bowman, who Latimer is challenging for his seat in CD-16 also disagrees with the sentiment. Bowman will be hosting a community conversation on March 27, 2024, at 7:00 pm at 350 6th Avenue, Mount Vernon, to discuss violence prevention. He will be giving attendees the opportunity to share their experiences, thoughts, and policy ideas on preventing violence in our communities. 

AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief and co-owner of Black Westchester, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Rap Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.

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