Lack Of Opportunities, Violence, and Prison Industrial Complex: Cuomo Announces $18 Million Bronx Youth Investment

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Cuomo, right, with Diaz.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced a $19 million investment to improve opportunities for youth in the Bronx.

The multi-pronged investment in community centers, anti-violence engagement and education, youth employment, mental health funding, anti-gang programs, and community baseball will provide greater opportunities and help reduce violence affecting Bronx youth, the governor said. Cuomo was joined by Bronx community leaders to announce this holistic approach to targeting community violence and improving the lives of young New Yorkers in the Bronx.

Governor's Cuomo's remarks appear below:

Thank you. First to Borough President Ruben Diaz, who does a great job always. Whatever the circumstances, let's give him a round of applause. To my partner in Albany, Speaker Carl Heastie. For the young people who don't know what that means, partner as a speaker. It means I call him up at every morning at 6:30 and I wake him up and I say, "how are you today?" And we talk about the agenda. And he gets upset that I call him at 6:30 and he hangs up on me. That's the Speaker-Governor relationship. He's done a magnificent job. Let's give him a round of applause.

To all my colleagues in State government. To Assemblyman Crespo and to Senator Sepulveda and Assemblymember Arroyo and to Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez and Jose Rivera. It's a pleasure to be with all of you. We have a great councilman from the City Council, who gives us faith and hope that public servants can stand up and do the right thing, Ritchie Torres. Pleasure to be with you.

We come to the Bronx often. We get together often. We've had a lot to celebrate. A lot of good news over the past few months. Today is a day to commiserate and to reflect and to comfort. What happened to Junior, 15-years-old, is frightening. It's frightening. 15-year-old who did everything right. Whose mother did everything right. Model student, model member of the community. Did everything right. And then a random act of unspeakable violence. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anybody. And that is frightening in this world today, that seems so out of control, so random, that when your child leaves the home in the morning you don't know what's going to happen and it can have nothing to do with you or him. That's why Junior's case is so frightening. Well, we made a mistake. What do you mean you made a mistake? This was the most unspeakable act of violence. No justification. No justification. It was a mistake. I don't care what the identity was. You had no right to do that to anyone for any reason. It is a level of violence. And it is so unsettling and frightening for everyone.

Justice for Junior starts with justice. Starts with justice. The police department is doing its job. Is going to find out who committed this unspeakable act. They have suspects. They're working. They should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, period. There is no justification, there is no explanation for what they did. And there is a line in society, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. And that is over the line. And Justice for Junior will be step one.

But there is a step 2. And that's what the Borough President was getting at. We have to get ahead of this problem and this situation, which has been repeating and repeating and repeating. Not in this gross, ugly a term, but we are having too many young people lost too young. These gangs, these gangs are corrupting too many young people. Earlier and earlier. And once they fall into the web of the gangs, they're lost. They're lost.

During the Reagan administration, they used to, they had an expression—Just Say No to Drugs. Just say no to drugs. Yeah, but it's not that easy to say no to drugs. Because drugs are there to fill a void. It's there to heal a pain. These gangs are there are there to fill a void. The gangs come second. Lack of family support, lack of opportunity, lack of hope, lack of a job, lack of real relationships and real connections comes first.

And then when you have that void, when you have that need then the gang comes in and feeds on that need. You want to belong to something, you want real friends, you want real support, you want to be a real man, you want to be a real woman, you want to be cool, you want to be tough, you want to be accepted—here we are. We're the gang. And you be part of us and we'll be part of you and we'll be something. Because you want to be something. You need to be something, and right now, you're nothing. And you don't see a place to go, so come with us and we'll make you something. Yeah, you'll make me something. You'll make me dead. Or you'll get me locked in prison. That's where you'll get me.

But, when you have no alternative, that sounds ok. Because life has options. And at least they're talking to me and they're offering me something. Slow death, dead end life, but it's something. We have to be smart enough to say let us fill that void before it's created. Let us fill that void before it's created. We know how it's created. We know where it's created. You have the same neighborhoods. The same housing projects. The same failing schools. Over and over and over producing kids who wind up in gangs, wind up on drugs and wind up in prison.

You can go to the prison system and you can trace it backwards and it's going to come to the same neighborhoods and the same failing school system and the same housing project. You walk through a state prison, they all know each other. They all grew up together. They all came up together. Why are we not smart enough to say well let us get to that place first and let's give them some hope and some alternative, so when a gang comes by they say, I don't need you. I don't want you. I know what you are offering. You are offering me death is what you are offering me. You are offering me a dead end and I don't have a void within me that needs you. I'm immune from your seduction because I have completeness and options within me.

As a society, we have to be that intelligent. We are still fixated on solving the problem rather than preventing the problem. We still have not made that basic shift that says, prevention rather than treatment. We've made it in health care. Now everyone talks about wellness, prevention. Don't talk about a hospital bed, make sure the person doesn't end up in a hospital bed. Well let's be as smart in social health. Let's stop talking about a prison bed and let's make sure the person doesn't end up in the prison bed in the first place. Let's invest in the communities and the help they need.

So a part of the justice for Junior healing effort is to learn the lesson. Rubin said call to action. Do something. Do something. Call to action - do something. Terrible horrendous act. What should we do? Do something. Do something positive. Not just words. Not just, you're in my thoughts and prayers. Do something. We are in government. We are not there to offer thoughts and prayers. I hate when they do that. We offer thoughts and prayers. That's nice, thank you. I accept that. Now, do something. You're government, you're a service bureau. You're not there to talk. You're not there to do a press release. You're not there to lament. You're there to deliver services, make a difference in people's lives - do something. That's what it's about. you know the schools are failing people. You know NYCHA is failing people. God bless Danny Barber and the leaders who have stood up and have told the truth about NYCHA and children being poisoned with lead and no one doing anything about it.

So Justice for Junior says, do something. We know gangs fill the void, let's get there first. We have put together a package of services and assistance in Junior's community as part of the justice effort that will start to fill that void that we've left. Madison Boys and Girls Club, which provides great services, take this facility, give it a computer lab, keep it open late at night, give kids an alternative, and we're going to give the Madison Boys and Girls Club $1 million to do just that. We have to get the kids off the streets. They're hanging out on the corner, bad things are going to happen. Nothing good happens hanging out on the corner.

We know how to get them off the streets, we know how to give them programs and recreation. PAL does a great job, we're going to give them another $250,000 to do even more. You know they are recruiting for gangs in the school. That's where it's happening. You know we have community-based organizations that can work with those young people and can help inoculate them from the seduction of the gang. Let's spend $250,000, get community-based organizations into the schools and stop the gang recruitment.

Some of the young people have mental health issues. Let's give them the health they need. We're going to fund $250,000 to get mental health treatment in the school. You know getting off the streets, sports, midnight basketball, begin on a team, you want to belong? Forget belonging to a gang. Belong to a baseball team, a soccer team, a basketball team. Forget the tattoo, get a uniform. We're going to invest $5 million in Roberto Clemente State Park and let's have a world class facility.

We have the family resource center that can treat the whole family because the mother or the father or the aunt or the uncle know when a young person is getting into trouble. And let's give them the intervention to help make that possible and make that a reality. The Speaker has championed My Brother's Keeper, $2 million to provide more services on the community level. We're going to do that.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Altogether, that is an $18 million investment to prevent the problem from happening in the first place and that is Justice for Junior and that is the role of government and let's learn from this and let's move forward together and let's hope that heals the pain. Thank you and God bless you.

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