Teen Deaths Stuns Community: Mayor Walsh and City Leaders Respond to Tragic Deaths

Leaders Assembled in front of Syracuse City Hall demonstrates the gravity of the situation in Syracuse

Situation is not isolated as Gov Cuomo  Sends New York State Troopers to Albany,NY

While this isn’t the first violent teen death recorded in Syracuse, this was the second murder in 48 hours. The regularity of shootings was responsible for the visceral response from the Syracuse community including its leadership, community activists, area clergy and residents at-large. This constant barrage of violence centered on the area’s youth, is not a phenomenon. According to the Associated Press, “from 2014 through June 2017, 48 youths aged 12 to 17 in Syracuse were killed or injured in gun violence.”  Information compiled by the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive identifies Syracuse rate of teen shootings “per capita is more than double those seen in the vast majority of U.S. cities with populations of 50,000 or more.”

On June 20, 2020, at the Rye Day celebration held on the Near Westside, according to published reports, at least 10 people pulled weapons; at the end, 17-year-old Chariel Osorio was dead, another victim of gun violence in Syracuse. Syracuse has faced so many incidents of violence, it has become routine to see reports of stabbings and shootings, in many cases they are teens engaging in violent acts.

What Happened: Two Teen Deaths in 48 Hours

In 2021 the violence in Syracuse continued, on Friday, May 21st, a 15-year-old Radames Francisco was shot on Shonnard Street. He was later pronounced dead at Upstate University Hospital. Sebastian Oliver, 14, was arrested last week for Ramades’ shooting death.

Within 48 hours on May 24, Syracuse Police Officers responded to the 1200 block of W. Onondaga St. for a stabbing call. Upon their arrival, they learned that a 13-year-old female   identified as Naj’ee Wright, (13 years of age, of Auburn, N.Y.) had been stabbed during a fight. She was transported to Upstate University Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Detectives have arrested Xomara Diaz, 16, and charged her with stabbing Naj’ee to death. Diaz faces the charges of Manslaughter 1st degree and Criminal Possession of a Weapon 4th degree. The suspect was subsequently lodged in a juvenile detention facility in Erie County.

Violence is not isolated Governor Cuomo Sends New York State Troopers to Albany

Just this week Gov Andrew Cuomo deployed New York State Troopers to assist Albany Law Enforcement. Cuomo said, “The recent surge of gun violence that has taken the lives of too many innocent bystanders and injured even more individuals in the City of Albany is deeply unsettling. Our communities need to be safe places where New Yorkers can live, work and raise families without fear of senseless violence and crime.

At the request of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, I am directing the New York State Police to assist the Albany Police Department with any available resources. This effort will include increased patrols and deployment of the State Police Community Stabilization Unit – a new initiative designed to strategically address known issues, in partnership with the local police and the community, to prevent crime before it occurs.”

A Full-Throated Response from Syracuse City Hall

Syracuse City Hall addressed the situation as the shock of multiple teen deaths appeared to hit a chord with the community.

2 days after the incidents there was a response delivered from the steps of Syracuse City Hall; Mayor Ben Walsh, Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens, Police Chief Kenton Buckner and Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson appeared before the public to address the situation.

Mayor Ben Walsh was first to speak to those gathered on the steps of City Hall.

“The reason I’m standing here with the chief of police, with the SCSD, with the Council President, with the Deputy Mayor is because we cannot do this alone.” Mayor Ben Walsh

Police Chief Kenton Buckner, Mayor Ben Walsh and Council President Helen Hudson

Walsh, “We’re here to discuss the stabbing death that occurred yesterday on West Onondaga Street and also to discuss other recent tragedies involving teenagers in our community. The reality is that we are a community in crisis. We lost a 13 year-old girl and a 15 year old boy within the past week, that is not normal, it can never be normal. And we as a community need to do more to protect our children and to support our families. It’s difficult to find the words. But we know that we need to support our children.

They’re not getting sufficient support in their homes.   Which means that we need to give them their support in their schools, we need to give them support in community centers, in places of worship and in the streets. We need to teach our children how to value their own lives and how to value the lives of others. Something is fundamentally broken; something has been lost in communication with our children.

So, we need to hit the re-set button and we need to come together as a community. I can assure you that we’re doing everything within our power here at City Hall to address this issue. But I’ll be the first one to tell you, that it’s not enough. It’s the reason we talk about the importance of jobs for young people, we need to give our young people alternatives. We have hundreds of jobs available this summer for our young people. We need employers to help fill those jobs, that’s why we talk about the importance of summer youth employment. “

“That’s why Chief Buckner has prioritized among the many things that the Police Department has to do, is create a Police Athletic league. It’s another opportunity to bring our kids in, to give them the support that they need, that’s why we renovated the Westmoreland Community Center. We need to give our kids safe havens. That’s why we’re going to continue to invest in parks programing to support our kids. That’s why the Syracuse City School District is working every day, not just to address the basic educational needs of our children but to address all of the other needs that aren’t being met. From nutrition to mental health to overall healthcare. As a community we need to wrap our arms, around not just our children, but our families that are in need. “

“The reason I’m standing here with the chief of police, with the SCSD, with the Council President, with the Deputy Mayor is because we cannot do this alone. And behind all of us, we need everyone else in the community. Because this is a societal problem, this is not a city problem this is a problem as a society we need to fix because we are broken.”

This is a community challenge; we need a community response and an entire community accountability of what’s happening- Police Chief Kenton Buckner

Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner

Syracuse Police Chief Kenton Buckner spoke, “This is a community challenge; we need a community response and an entire community accountability of what’s happening. I can tell you from the police standpoint we are certainly doing and trying everything within our power to protect our city. But as we all know we can’t arrest our way out of this because we are arresting people everyday for a variety of things. But we’re certainly going to need the communities help in securing our city. If you are an organization or an individual that has the capacity to be able to help someone, I always encourage people to start with the youth to gain traction on some of the things that we’re seeing. In addition to our victims being juvenile/youth the suspects that we are arresting for these crimes are in many cases have been juvenile.”

Chief Buckner in his presentation also promoted the Police Athletic League, which provides ways of interacting with our law enforcement community using sports as a catalyst. Identifying stakeholders in the group gathered, reinforcing the gravity of this occasion.  He also acknowledged neighborhoods, schools and other community assets assembled, and their importance.

Buckner continues, “Everyone needs to do as much as we can to try to address many of these issues that are going on in our community; none of which are simple, there is no simple solution as a response to this. But we’d certainly appreciate the public giving us some assistance.”

“We have a problem with our Young People… We have to work together to save our babies.” – Helen Hudson

Helen Hudson Syracuse Common Council President

Next Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson said, “I think we are all standing here today because, we see that we have a problem. We have a problem with our young people.” Hudson then extended condolences to families of both deceased teens.

Hudson in a somber tone continues, “We are burying our children, that is not normal. Community: we need you, we need your help, we need you to stand with us, we need you to help us save our children. I’ve gone to over a hundred funerals and hundreds of wakes. It’s not normal to see the pain that these mothers and these fathers and these siblings leave behind, that’s not normal. So, I’m asking everybody in the Syracuse community, let’s stop finger pointing, let’s stop talking about who should do what. We all play a part in this, we all have to get out here, we all have to get our children because they are our children. Our children are dying, and we are the one’s that need to step-up and start being responsible. You can’t see these kids out here fighting, videotape it and think it’s funny, not Funny. You can’t see these kids out here fighting and give them a weapon, not funny.”

Our babies are dying and until we stand up, stand firm, let’s hit these streets and get our children. If you have any kind of idea, any way to help us, reach out. Reach out to me, you can reach out to the mayor, you can reach out to the Chief, you can reach out to the Deputy Mayor. We have to be able to work together to save our babies. Because too many of them are going to Oakwood (Cemetery) and that’s not the way the order should go.”  Ms. Hudson’s message was clear, “We have to work together to save our babies.”

City Hall cannot do it alone, SPD cannot do it alone, SCSD cannot do it alone, all of us must come together to address these issues. Myra Ortez Syracuse City School District

SCSD Central Offices

Myra Ortez, Director of Student Support Services for the Syracuse City School District, continued at the podium where she stated, “I work directly with our community agencies and SCSD student support staff to provide support to students, families and our staff throughout the year, and especially in times of crisis.  The recent incidents of violence have once again rocked this community, and we at the district are willing to partner, to come to the table and try to find ways to help these young people in crisis.

Whenever something happens in the community it inevitably finds its way into our schools, so it is imperative that we are part of the solution. SCSD has a multi-tiered system of support, this involves all of our student support specialists, as well as our community partners. The community partners encompass about 15 organizations, and we meet regularly to discuss the issues involving our students and families and to identify solutions and support. This has to be a community-wide effort. City Hall cannot do it alone, SPD cannot do it alone, SCSD cannot do it alone, all of us must come together to address these issues.”

Next to speak is Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens. Prior to becoming Deputy Mayor, Owens was Director of Community Connections aka Southwest Community Center and worked with Neighborhood and Business Development for the city of Syracuse.

In his introduction, Mayor Walsh spoke of her overall experience stating, “Deputy Mayor Owens has been on the front lines for so many of the most significant challenges facing our community. And I think, often times on topics around crime specifically violent crime, there becomes this dichotomy, it’s all about supporting law enforcement, or it’s about supporting community organizations. As we said from the beginning, we have to do it all, we need the Syracuse Police Department and our Police Officers, but they cannot solve these problems for us. We need to look beyond Law Enforcement, look at our other partners in our community, engage them, support them, and the Deputy Mayor is a critical partner in City Hall to bring these parties together.”

Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens Channeled our “Angry Auntie”

Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens

Ms. Owens, perhaps had the most direct, rip the scab off the sore, comments of the entire event. Mincing no words, the Deputy Mayor didn’t hold back, as she stated, “The word crisis was used, we are in a crisis. It’s the culture, it’s a crisis of violent culture. When people hear that and say, ‘Sharon, I’m not out here shooting people, I’m not out there stabbing people with knives.’ But we are out there going after each other every day. So how can we expect, as Helen puts it, ‘babies to be able to process the anger that they’re feeling, when adults can’t do it.” When adults don’t do it. The model that we’re asking for, for our children is a model we have to set ourselves.

I’m glad that the mayor talked about the work I’ve done in this community for 30 years on the ground and working with my sister (Helen Hudson) for many, many years and many other people out there. So, to all of those individuals in these crisis times, there’s a question of ‘what’s being done?’ Let me say this. To all those youth workers that are in those community centers, and in those agencies doing the work with our youth. For all of those who go to their homes after program is over to check on them. For all of them walking the neighborhoods and have built relationships with young people in our community. We say thank you for everything you’re doing out there. And we know you are doubling down on those efforts. The question comes for the rest of us. I said a long time ago. If you ignore the plight of your neighbor, it is going to come knocking on your door at some point. “

“So, ‘my child is fine, my child goes to school, my child is in church, my child is engaged in programming. My child is on the path to college, my child is doing okay.’ Is every child you know doing, okay? Is the child living next to you, okay? Is the child in your own family that you’re not directly raising, okay? That is the culture that we have to create in our community.

My part as a parent, my part as a community member is to care for those I’m responsible to, but my ultimate responsibility is to care about our community as a whole. “

“Another child is dead, another child her life has been changed for the rest of her life. They all collectively are victims and they’re looking to the grownups to help figure it out. And this handful of grownups standing up here at the podium don’t have all the answers. I told you in the beginning, I’m overwhelmed with grief. But I’ll never give up the fight. Helen put out the call, and we’re prepared to meet you at that call. “

I offer to anyone in the community, if you have solutions, if you have ideas, talk to us, share them, nothing is off the table.-Mayor Ben Walsh 

Mayor Walsh

Mayor Walsh ended by saying, “We lost two young lives in a matter of a few days, and that trauma reverberates across this city. I want to offer my condolences to the families involved. That trauma is long lasting, and we need to find a way to stop it. We will continue to do everything within our power here at City Hall. I promise you that every waking hour I will spend working with the partners behind me and all of you in front of me to help save our children and save our families.  We will identify resources wherever they’re available to invest in solutions.

I can assure you as we finalize our plans for the recent Federal investment we received, we’re going to make a robust investment in supporting and caring for our children and families. I offer to anyone in the community, if you have solutions, if you have ideas, talk to us, share them, nothing is off the table. We can’t afford for anything to be off the table. So, please join us in coming together; not as a city, not as a county, as a community as a society to wrap our arms around our young people and our families and help them.”