The kids are back from school. It's dinnertime. Parents know their children are safe at home.
But in Hempstead, home isn't a respite from the dangers of the world outside. Keeping children inside doesn't mean they're safe. In Hempstead, the suburban ideal is crushed by the weight of the plague of gang violence that has taken over the streets.
Dejah Joyner was 12. She was a seventh-grade student, a Girl Scout who loved to laugh, sing and dance. Now she is dead. A bullet shot from outside her home on Friday at about 5 p.m. pierced her head and killed her.CommentSubmit your letter
You likely know a 12-year-old girl. Perhaps she has a smile like Dejah's. And that is why you, too, share the community's very raw pain.
Somehow, her death must not be an end, but a beginning of a turnaround for this community. Crime is at a two-year low -- there were four homicides this year in Hempstead Village before her death, compared with 12 in 2013. But residents still don't feel safe.
There's no easy solution to the persistent violence. But that doesn't mean it's not time to try. The calls for action and efforts to find answers mustn't stop.
Efforts to root out the evil within the neighborhood won't work without the community's involvement. Start by making sure Dejah's killing isn't another unsolved crime. There's a $75,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. Those who know something must come forward. The "snitches get stitches" attitude, the fear of reprisal that stops cooperation with law enforcement, perpetuates the problem.
It's not easy for residents to take back their homes and streets. Efforts must ripple from the community to the local and county police departments, to the village, to the schools, to the churches, to the town, to the county. Those with real pulpits and those with loud voices who command attention must speak out.
Less than a decade ago, there was an effort to clean up Terrace Avenue in Hempstead. Modeled after a Boston program called Operation Ceasefire, it started with undercover investigations and drug dealer arrests. But it also gave some suspects and others another chance by providing counseling, job training, community gatherings and more. Start with that. Fold in after-school programs and job opportunities so drug dealers aren't the only employers or the ones to provide a sense of belonging. And the area needs more attention, from economic development to social services, to create a place that can sustain success.
A widespread, long-term, deep-dive solution is needed to save this community, to save families and children who should enjoy dinner at home without fear.
The gangs, guns, threats and violence seem impossible to conquer. But we have to try. Any attempt will require time, money, patience, courage, creativity and much more. But perhaps Dejah's smile can be the glue that brings people together to find answers that someday just might bring peace to Hempstead.