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Rally condemns violence West Side residents plead for peace on their violence-racked streets

In the midst of impassioned pleas for peace Wednesday from local politicians, clergy and community leaders, Jennifer Mecozzi of 15th Street was compelled to add her voice to the mix.

After a recent spate of violence on the Lower West Side that resulted in six shootings -- two of them deadly -- Mecozzi joined the participants who converged for a rally at Massachusetts and Shields avenues, feet from where 19-year-old Abraham Carrasquillo last weekend became the city's 38th homicide victim. Mecozzi, a 36-year-old single mother, wished simply for an end to violence in the neighborhood where she was raised.

"A young man died on my side lawn [after he] was shot last year. If I had the money . . . I'd move, too. Everyone who grew up in this community with me is in North Buffalo now. I'm Italian [and] Filipino, and all the Italians moved away . . ."

"I want it to be like it used to be. I want to walk down Grant Street and not be worried about my children," Mecozzi said.

There were a few prescriptions toward that end from a variety of speakers representing VOICE Buffalo, the Hispanic Alliance and the Western New York Peace Center.

Erie County Legislature Majority Leader Maria R. Whyte, D-Buffalo, helped to organize the rally, in part, she said, "to express sympathy, share the grief and acknowledge the harsh realities around us."

"I don't want to talk about crime any more. I want to talk about crime prevention," Whyte told the crowd.

To stem the violence, she said, leaders must focus on youth programs and other anti-poverty initiatives.

The Rev. Jose Robles, president of the Association of Hispanic Pastors of Western New York, agreed. He said he has long been praying for his community but more needs to be done.

"We need to bring jobs to this community, because some of the things happening is because there are no jobs," said Robles.

Robles, the Rev. Bruce McKay of Pilgrim-St. Luke United Church of Christ and other members of VOICE Buffalo plan a meeting with local elected officials Aug. 2 in Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church, to see what can be done to help shore up communities where the need for services are great.

Marc L. Fuller, chairman of Stop the Violence Coalition, lamented the young lives lost on both the West Side and East Side of the city.

"They're leaving behind young babies. What are we going to do as a community? Keep going to prayer vigils?" Fuller asked.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, addressed what he described as federal resources squandered on the war in Iraq that he said ought to be rededicated to the nation's urban centers.

Carrasquillo, of Potomac Avenue, was shot to death at about 1:20 p.m. Sunday when he was ambushed at Bubble Car Wash, 363 Massachusetts Ave.

Just five blocks away, Julio Penaloza, 30, was riding his bicycle on Massachusetts, at Fargo Avenue, at about 2:45 p.m. Friday when a vehicle drove up to him and a gunman inside fired as many as eight shots at him, killing him.

No arrests have been made in either slaying. Police believe Carrasquillo's slaying was a retaliation for Penaloza's murder.

Police believe the recent spate of shootings are part of a gang war.

During an interview Wednesday afternoon, Buffalo Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson said police have identified several youth gangs at work in the neighborhood.

"There's some issues revolving around these youth gangs and there's some violent activity as a result," Gipson said.

The Police Department is using various techniques to curb violent crime in that area, police officials say.

Gipson pointed to the Mobile Response Unit -- a team of 30 officers focused on removing illegal guns, targeting gangs and cracking down on drug traffickers -- which is working in that area, along with other high-crime neighborhoods.

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