Alphanzo Pittman and Virgil Terry were supposed to become Hamilton Hill’s success stories.
Before Pittman was shot in the back and Terry was felled by a bullet in the chest on Hulett Street Friday, they were both headed for scholastic success.
Terry, 21, was putting himself through college at Albany’s Bryant and Stratton College. He was majoring in criminal justice, preparing for a job in law enforcement.
Pittman, 17, was a senior in high school, about to graduate on time. He was beating the odds: roughly half of the school district’s students do not finish high school in four years.
Although both at least occasionally sold drugs, according to friends, a check of arrest blotters shows that neither had been in serious trouble with the law.
The only offenses against Terry were from one arrest in 2008: one charge of driving without a license, and a charge of possessing a small amount of cocaine. Neither led to jail time, and it appeared as though Terry turned his life around. This winter, rather than selling drugs, he was working in between classes as a day laborer through Labor Ready.
But the prospect of selling cocaine was never far away — particularly when money was short.
“He was caught up between two different worlds. He had to be out there and sell drugs and do whatever had to be done to buy his way to freedom,” said his daughter’s grandmother, a woman who asked to be identified only by her first name, Tammy.
She said he rarely turned to drug sales.
“He was working, and in school. He was trying. He was coming up in a world where he had to fend for himself,” she said.
Police said they still don’t have a motive for the shootings. But Tammy said Terry was afraid that other youths in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood would try to kill him.
Recently, she said, he was enmeshed in a series of retaliatory fights. It started with ambushes on the school athletic fields.
“Kids getting jumped on the football fields,” she said. “Then there was an altercation with kids on the Hill.”
Tammy never knew why Terry was involved, but she knew this was far more serious than simple fistfights.
“He was so scared for his life,” she said.
She doesn’t blame the drugs so much as the fighting.
“Who do you think really isn’t selling drugs?” she said. “These kids are learning how to fight. Mothers tend to fight [alongside] their kids. Their parents are out there fighting with them.”
In response to the double-homicide, inner-city ministers are organizing a prayer vigil tonight at 5:30 p.m. outside the Duryee A.M.E. Zion Church, 307 Hulett St.
The NAACP is also holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss how to keep the situation from escalating with retaliatory shootings. That meeting will be held at the former YMCA on State Street at 6:30 p.m.
Judy Atchinson, who runs a program for at-risk children, said the well-meaning attendees should instead stand on street corners and deter retaliation with their presence.
“The only way you can do it is if you have volunteers hit the streets. You’ve got to have people on the streets, you can’t have people meeting in buildings,” she said.
Direct action needed
The Rev. James C. Simmons, who is helping organize the prayer vigil, agreed that direct action is necessary. Simmons was, until recently, a minister in one of the more crime-ridden districts of Washington, D.C., where a double-murder is not uncommon.
“I have some experience in this,” he said. “We need to do more than prayer. We need to build relationships. That doesn’t happen just one time. You have to be there for the long haul.”
He’s hoping the vigil will be a beginning.
“The message is, there are persons who want to reach out to those who are engaging in destructive behavior and disadvantaged lifestyles. There are safe havens,” he said.
The NAACP also wants to emphasize that the cycle of violence will never end if the victims’ friends and family try to hunt down the killers.
“What happens is we have another parent burying their child,” said NAACP executive committee member Anthony Gaddy.
He wants to marshal successful youth as ambassadors to their gun-toting peers.
“Maybe they need to see their peers walking a path toward a brighter and better future, a path they’re not walking,” he said. “Maybe we need the youngest and brightest to show us the way.”