The shooting spree that has rocked the East Side since mid-May resulting in at least three deaths and numerous injuries to innocent bystanders has sent Buffalo Peacemakers into troubled neighborhoods with a message.
“Put down the hardware,” said the Rev. James Giles, supervising coordinator of the Peacemakers, a coalition of seven anti-violence groups. “It makes it bad for everyone. These shooters are so inaccurate they’re hurting innocent people.”
One recent patrol targeted Fennimore Avenue in the Bailey-Kensington area where last month a three-year-old boy riding his tricycle was critically wounded in the chest by gunfire meant for someone else.
“We’ve been to several neighborhoods where the shootings occurred,” said George Johnson, president of Buffalo United Front. “We engage the people, giving them a sense of home. More importantly, we tell them to stop the retaliation.”
At least two of the three homicides that occurred last weekend were retaliatory strikes, Giles said.
Both Deshawn White, 38, who was killed Friday night on St. Joseph Street, and Victor “Fat Boy” Hernandez, 30, who was shot dead as he stood by a frontyard campfire on Pershing Avenue were shot in retaliation for actions that occurred months ago, Giles said.
Two women with Hernandez at the time of the shooting, Stacy Homes, 40, and Natasha Coleman, 28, both of Buffalo, were hospitalized at Erie County Medical Center with gunshot wounds. Coleman was released. Homes was listed in fair condition, according to the hospital.
“There are different types of retaliation,” said Giles. “A lot of young guys in their 20s are robbing drug dealers forgetting who they are robbing. Everyone won’t take it laying down.”
A third homicide victim, Benjamin M. Sweetwine, 31, was apparently ambushed Sunday evening by a gunman in the victim’s residence on Sumner Place, police said.
A prayer vigil for White was held Thursday night on Scoville Avenue.
“All of this is unfortunate,” said Giles, a pastor at Greater Works Deliverance Fellowship Church. “It’s almost like a sleeping bear coming out of hibernation. We’ve had about 15 shootings since the end of May. There may be more than 15 victims.”
“Ongoing homicides are part of the lifestyle of gang warfare where ongoing tension between two neighborhoods erupts in violence,” Giles said. “Spontaneous killings can occur any time someone gets hurt over an argument.”
One of the Peacemakers’ goals is to offer youth alternate activities so they won’t have time for the streets. Five years ago, Johnson of Buffalo United Front launched a Family Fishing Day “to give them other activities and to bring together families. If we teach a kid how to fish they would not be out on the corners,” Johnson said.
In 2012, the two-day event attracted 5,600 fishermen and women to Broderick Park at the foot of West Ferry Avenue. Last year, 6,500 anglers participated.
On Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Broderick Park will again be open for families to fish.
“Last year, we gave away more than 500 rods and reels,” said Johnson, who added that no fishing licenses are required during the two-day fishing derby. “There have never been arguments or violence at this event. It really gives the parents time to spend with their kids.”