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8 people shot to death in 3 weeks, no arrests; Police believe most of the shootings are by killers doling out street justice

Gunfire has killed eight people in the past three weeks, and none of the homicide cases has resulted in an arrest.

Seven of the victims were black men, and seven of the eight were in their 20s or younger. Police do not believe most of the shootings were random.

Instead, killers were dishing out street justice, and if innocent victims got in the way, so be it.

What is even more frightening is that the toll could have been much higher.

Since the beginning of the year, 105 people in Buffalo have been shot; 13 of them were killed.

During the same period last year, 60 people suffered gunshot wounds. That's a more than 70 percent increase.

"We're taking aggressive action to address this flare-up in violence, and hopefully soon there will be several arrests," Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Tuesday.

A few hours after he spoke with The Buffalo News, Derenda's homicide detectives were at the scene of the latest slaying, this one a drive-by incident in which a man in his mid-20s was shot to death and a woman was injured.

The shooting occurred about about 5:15 p.m. on 18th Street near Massachusetts Avenue, on the city's West Side -- about two blocks away from a fatal shooting that took place Saturday.

The latest two victims appeared to have been struck by gunshots fired from a blue minivan, police said.

One recurring theme in the shootings is the refusal of witnesses to cooperate with police during investigations, as victims or their friends sometimes prefer "street justice" or are too afraid of retaliation to speak up.

The refusal to cooperate will only bring more violence down upon the community, said Samuel A. Herbert, chairman of the Coalition to Save Martin Luther King Park.

"When black people are killing black people and they know who is doing it and don't say anything, they are just as guilty in my opinion," he said. "To continue to embrace not saying anything, it gives those individuals bragging rights to go around the neighborhood and boast that they are hit men or assassins. That's why I embrace and promote that it is 'hip to snitch.' "

In the absence of cooperation, the violence piles up:

*At 12:39 P.M. Monday, a 32-year-old man was critically wounded by a single gunshot to the buttocks on Montana Avenue near East Ferry Street.

*Late Saturday night, a few blocks away, detectives were on Kilhoffer Street, again near East Ferry, investigating the shooting of a 24-year-old Buffalo man who had also been hit in the lower body, tearing open an artery. Justin G. Miller died Sunday morning, the 14th homicide victim this year.

Others who have died in this deadly month are:

*Shaquille Woods, 19, shot Saturday at Massachusetts and Shields avenues.

*Samantha Cothran, 23, shot May 13 outside a Minnesota Avenue house party.

*Marquay T. Lee, 26, one of five picnickers shot by a gunman May 12 in Martin Luther King Park. He died a few days later.

*Gary Joiner, 56, shot May 9 in a home invasion on the 300 block of May Street.

*Mark Anderson, 28, shot multiple times in the head and upper body May 7 at Jefferson Avenue and East North Street.

*Corddaryl Henley, 25, shot May 5 inside his tow truck at Walden Avenue and Latour Street.

Handguns, one rifle and one shotgun were used in the most recent eight homicides, and five of the fatal shootings occurred in or within approximately a mile of Martin Luther King Park.

Since the beginning of May, police have arrested 58 individuals who have committed crimes involving guns.

"We are removing guns from our streets each and every day and making shooting arrests," Derenda said.

During one 10-hour shift last week, Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority police confiscated four guns.

For Herbert, all of the shootings -- believed to be black-on-black bloodshed -- are a travesty. But the shooting in the park, he said, really hurt.

"Martin Luther King was a man of nonviolence, and this shooter crossed the line. What [the shooter] did was slap the dream in the face," said Herbert, referring to the martyred civil rights leader's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

And while there were 15 homicides as of this time last year, the current spike in violence proves it can be unpredictable.

It is normal for bloodshed to increase when the warmer weather arrives, but this rash of gunfire, police say, began at the beginning of April, earlier than usual.

So what is happening?

"Some of it has been cowardly, senseless acts by depraved individuals, and many have been drug- and gang-related," Derenda said.

Derenda declined to comment on what police are doing to catch the shooters, but he and other police brass expressed confidence that the criminals will soon be caught.

Much of the violence, the commissioner pointed out, goes back to recurring motives:

*Fights among drug dealers over who controls street corners in the lucrative trade.

*Rivalries, real and imagined, between competing gangs who start "beefing" with each other.

Anyone with information on any of the shootings is asked to call or text message the Buffalo police anonymous tipcall line at 847-2255 or email the information by visiting www.bpdny.org and clicking on "Report a Tip."

Herbert said he is not promoting snitching on "the numbers man or the neighborhood sales person," referring to individuals who are part of the economic underground, but rather assisting police in "removing those fools who have no regard for life."

Members of the clergy, he added, need to take a major stand against violence, and police, while they are doing a good job, need to work even harder.

Above all else, the focus needs to be on the people who transport illegal guns into the city to sell to thugs, Herbert said.

"I can go right now and get a gun for $75. My question is, who are these people who supply the distributors here with guns? That's where law enforcement needs to focus."

Derenda said he has enlisted the help of the U.S. Attorney's Office in bringing federal charges against those arrested for gun possession, explaining that those prison sentences are more severe and often served in distant federal prisons.

But there is no question that the battle to remove guns from the streets is difficult.

"We arrested a man on parole for possessing a gun. What's he doing with a gun?" Derenda said in frustration.

Travis W. Billups, 20, was arrested Monday night on the 600 block of Delaware Avenue and charged with possession of a .45-caliber Hi-Point handgun. He had been released from state prison four months ago on parole for a previous conviction of criminal possession of a weapon.

And though no one disputes the wave of violence, Chief of Detectives Dennis J. Richards pointed out that there was an extended period earlier this year with few homicides.

"From March 2 until April 17, there were no recorded homicides," Richards said. "Unfortunately, the numbers have caught up very quickly in the month of May."

In one positive development, the condition of Anthony Banks, the shooting victim from Montana Avenue, was upgraded Tuesday from critical to serious; he is expected to live.

email: lmichel@buffnews.com

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Epidemic of shootings

Man and woman on West Side are latest victims

As of May 22

60 Wounded or killed a year ago

105 Wounded or killed this year