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Foss: Homicide in Schenectady a shame

Foss: Homicide in Schenectady a shame

Foss: Homicide in Schenectady a shame
A Schenectady police patrolman looks for evidence at the scene of Friday's shooting death.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

It was bound to happen at some point, but still, what a shame: Early Friday morning, Schenectady recorded its first gun-related homicide in nearly a year and a half. 

That's right -- a city with a reputation for violence and crime saw zero gun-related homicides in 2018, and just one such killing in 2017: a shooting death on Crane Street, in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood. 

That's a pretty impressive streak for a city with a reputation for violence and crime, and it's sad to see it come to an end. 

It's sad because a life has been needlessly, senselessly lost, but also because of the way a sudden, violent tragedy can tear at the fabric of a community, sparking retaliatory violence and other social ills. 

Whether we'll see more gun violence as a result of last week's shooting remains to be seen. 

But I'm cautiously optimistic that we won't, in large part because of a conversation I had with Jamel Muhammad in the aftermath of the shooting. 

Muhammad heads a program I wrote about last July, called 1Life2Live, that works to prevent the spread of street violence by meeting and speaking with those most likely to perpetuate it and persuading them to choose another way. 

It's challenging, under-the-radar work, and when I met with Muhammad and his team during the summer, they were proud of the role they'd played in keeping shooting deaths in Schenectady to a minimum. 

Even then, I recall following up my questions about the city's unusually long stretch of no homicides with a wary "knock on wood," as if calling attention to it might cause it to end the very next day. 

It didn't. 

Instead, it ended in the final weeks of January, with the death of 38-year-old Roscoe Foster at the intersection of Becker and Linden Streets. 

When I spoke to Muhammad on Friday, he told me that Foster's death was "disappointing" to him and his team. 

"We do take it personally," he said. 

He said he and his team were made aware of the shooting shortly after it occurred, and that they quickly began "strategizing," figuring out who to reach out to so that the situation could be resolved "without retaliation." 

"We're comfortable that we've contained the situation," Muhammad said, adding that there was no reason for panic. "We want the community to continue to support us, and we'll continue to support the community." 

What made Schenectady's homicide-free streak especially impressive was that it occurred during a period when violence in Albany was spiking -- in 2018, the city recorded 15 homicides, which is well above average.  

Over time, the number of firearm-related crimes has fallen significantly in Schenectady, from 163 in 2008 to 94 in 2017, according to state data, a 42 percent drop.   

Of course, we shouldn't overlook the fact that Schenectady still sees far too many violent incidents -- too many non-fatal shootings and stabbings, rapes and assaults.

Even when people aren't getting killed, there's clearly still plenty of anti-violence work to be done.

And make no mistake: reducing violence is hard work.  

It doesn't happen by magic. 

It requires constant vigilance and outreach, a willingness, in the case of 1Life2Live, to engage with those most likely to commit violent and destructive crimes. 

In Schenectady, there are a lot of groups working hard to make Schenectady safer, including 1Life2Live, local law enforcement, Schenectady Neighborhood Watch and any number of non-profit organizations that work to keep children and teens off the streets. 

Last week's homicide is, as Muhammad put it, a disappointment. 

It's also upsetting and tragic. 

But I'm optimistic that the city can stay on the right track. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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