More than 400 Hempstead Village residents and others from nearby communities gathered in Mirschel Park Saturday for the ninth annual Hempstead Day, to promote an end to violence.
The village of 54,000 has among the highest crime rates on Long Island, residents, and community activists and local officials are concerned about a spike in homicides this year.
"Hempstead is really hot right now, which is one of our main concerns," said Bishop J. Raymond Mackey, executive director of Mineola-based Helping End Violence Now (HEVN), a coalition of community groups that organized the event. "We need to work on anger removal."
Homicides in the village increased 75 percent, from 4 to 7 from Jan. 1 to Aug. 12 compared with last year, according to the Hempstead Village Police Department. Overall violent crime -- including rape, robbery and assault -- is down 12 percent, from 257 to 226, compared with a year ago.
Last month, 24-year-old Blair M. Kearse was fatally shot and a second victim was wounded on Linden Place.
"I'm here to tell y'all you can turn your life around and you can be better in the community," Chris Maddox, 30, a former HEVN outreach worker who previously served five years in prison, told the gathering. "You don't have to be on the streets to be recognized in the community."
More than 60 youths played in a basketball tournament during the event in memory of Hykiem Coney, 34, a former gang member who became an anti-gang activist, but was fatally shot outside a Hempstead bar in 2006 by a gunman targeting someone else. Other attendees enjoyed free food, gospel music and prayer.
"I used to be in a gang on the streets, but I am here to give back," said tournament coordinator Christen Bradley, 28, of Roosevelt, who went to prison at age 17 for four years. "I helped to create the chaos that is out there; it's only right to fix it."
A few steps from the park is Terrace Avenue, a six-block area that Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice described in January 2009 as Long Island's most notorious "open-air drug market." "This is our way of giving back in this community," Mackey said. "It is behind Terrace Avenue, an area that needs much ministering to."