Dominick Calsolaro

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Help Us Stop the Bloodshed

Albany Gun Violence Task Force hears from the community at its first public hearing

Published on 3/27/2008 by Metroland written by David King

‘He was raised in the church, the pastor knew his name, father at home, supposedly all the right ingredients for the perfect child,” said Albany County Legislator Wanda Willingham (District 3), who addressed the first public hearing of the Albany Gun Violence Task Force at the Philip Livingston Magnet Academy in Albany about how she lost her son to gun violence. “But, somewhere along the way, when the drugs hit Albany, it was hell.”

Willingham recalled realizing that if her son was involved in gun violence there would be a gun in her house. She found one hidden behind a wall panel in her own home. Willingham lost her son 16 years ago, but that wasn’t the legislator’s only run-in with death caused by firearms on the streets of Albany.

Later she witnessed an argument between two young men, an argument she said seemed to be resolved before a friend of one of the men involved in the argument handed him a gun. Five shots later and one of the young men lay dead in the street.

Willingham warned the speakers who had come before her, who focused on the responsibility of the parents and family in preventing gun violence, that “it can happen to me, it can happen to you.”

Willingham insisted that even children in a seemingly perfect family can find themselves involved in the peer pressure that gets them involved in guns.

Beverly Padgett said that to deal with issues of gun violence, more opportunities need to be made available for the whole community. “When have you ever, ever seen a city with less than 100,000 people with three ghettos?,” she asked. “Come on. We’ve got three ghettos!”

Doreathea Brace told the crowd that firearms are far too accessible in the city of Albany. “I can walk right out of here and buy a gun right now!” she declared.

Willingham told the crowd that she had surveyed a class at Albany High School, and 75 percent of them knew someone who had been shot, while 90 percent were acquainted with someone who owned a gun.

Some speakers spoke in favor of gun rights. Others made it clear that while it might seem like there is a lack of services for children in the city, there are in fact a great number of programs, but that they are being marginalized by a lack of proper support and funding from Albany’s politicians. A number of community members complimented the job done by Chief James Tuffey and said they were happy to see increased police presence in their communities.

While the meeting was attended by interested politicians and community activists, including Albany Common Council members and Albany congressional hopefuls, regular members of the community were few and far between.

Sharon Malloy said that she would not have known to come to the meeting if she had not heard a news report earlier in the day. She hoped the task force might distribute fliers in the community before the next meeting.

Despite the low turnout, Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) was encouraged. Calsolaro can still remember when the task force was just a pipe dream of his, when he and a number of concerned citizens held makeshift, unofficial meetings at a Dunkin Donuts on Madison Avenue in Albany. Calsolaro had to fight for years for the task force before Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings agreed to go along with the legislation.

Calsolaro said he hopes that one of the more influential members of the task force might be able to secure funding to ensure that next time there is proper advertising.

Albany District Attorney David Soares, a task force member, said he felt that the task force has been given a chance to hear from a diverse number of voices, and he thinks things are headed in the right direction. “I think ultimately the recommendations that are going to be made are going to incorporate a lot of the different presentations we’ve now been privy to.”

However, Soares had a caveat about what may ob struct true success. “I think that ultimately our success will be judged by the willingness of the people we make our recommendations to to listen to and abide by the recommendations.”