As ministers came to Newhallville to demand an end to violence, opinions remained mixed about a larger question hanging in the air: What to do about the kids who beat up a van driver in last week’s dirt bike crash?
In the wake of a weekend shooting that threw Gospel Fest into chaos, Minister Donald Morris brought the Brotherhood Leadership Summit to the corner of Huntington and Shepard Streets Wednesday evening for a curbside sermon and stop the violence rally.
The rally came three days after shots rang out at Goffe Street Park, where Morris and the Christian Community Commission were holding the 12th annual Gospel Fest. A 14-year-old was grazed by a bullet. One Newhallville kid, age 19, was chased down and arrested for gun possession.
“I’m angry,” said Morris. He said this was the first episode of gun violence at the event after 11 peaceful years. “Why would you have to bring a gun to Gospel Fest?”
The streets were “quiet as a mouse,” Morris acknowledged, as he took the mic on the corner Wednesday. He called for three results: First, that the kid who did the Gospel Fest shooting be “made an example of,” so that other kids don’t try to follow his lead. Second: That police start patrolling the streets with lights blazing, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., when kids are out making trouble. Third: That pastors in Newhallville and Dixwell break from passivity and start reaching out to mentor kids.
Calling violence “out of control,” Morris referred to a harrowing incident still haunting the neighborhood: A July 24 dirt bike-van collision that led to a crowd beating a driver and the death of the dirt bike rider, 15 year-old Quinell/Cornell Payne (at right in photo of a friend’s t-shirt).
“The man in the hospital beat half to death. For what?” Morris cried, down largely empty streets. “Where in the world is our black leadership?” he added, referring in part to the area’s alderman, who later showed up.
At the time of the crash, witnesses told media outlets that 12 kids jumped the van driver when they saw their friend, whom they call Cornell, lying in the street.
Not much was said officially about the neighborhood’s continual reluctance to turn in the 12 kids who beat up the driver. The victim was a middle-aged man from the neighborhood. Like the boy, he was African-American. Dozens of people saw the beating but police say the investigation has been stymied by a “no snitch” mentality that makes black-on-black crime difficult to solve.
An Unsolved Question
Why isn’t the neighborhood speaking up about the beating? Those interviewed at the rally had different takes on that question.
Andre Barnes (pictured), a 50-year-old Newhallville man listening in to the preachers’ message from outside a convenience store, had several answers of his own. He said even though he knows the driver from the neighborhood — “a pretty good guy” — he could also empathize with the kids who did the beating.
“My own son was shot,” he said: Andre Barnes, Jr. was fatally shot on Dewitt Street in 1995.
“I know the rage,” he said. “If I ran and saw a friend of mine, with his eyes popping out of his head like that …” he trailed off.
“They was wrong” to beat the driver, Barnes said. But “people have different reactions. Those kids went into shock.”
Barnes also cited neighborhood rumors about the driver’s behavior in explaining why people might not want to turn the kids in for the beating.
“You see, no one is coming forward because of how fast the guy was going,” he said. Police have sternly refuted rumors that the driver was drunk or traveling too fast, maintaining that the driver was not at fault.
Alderman Charles Blango (pictured), who walked up to the corner mid-way through the rally, was invited onstage to speak. He gave two messages. Onstage, he commended the preachers for reaching out to the kids and demanding an end to the violence:
“It’s time to get angry and it’s time to get upset about our young men that is being shot down,” Blango said.
Offstage, he returned to his earlier message that this is “still a time for healing” for those grieving for both victims. Asked why no one has come forward to report the beating, Blango replied: “First of all, whatever happened to the van driver ain’t right.”
But “people are afraid” to come forward and report someone in their own neighborhood — “afraid of what happens when you accuse the wrong person; afraid [whether] you’d be protected” from those you accuse.
Pressed on the code of silence, he eventually said: “If they know who done it, they should come forward.”
Apostle Eugene Brunson of Wayfaring Ministries, one of the Brotherhood Leadership Summit, said “I didn’t think about” the kids who beat the van driver in his sermon for the day. He said he was more focused on what had happened at Gospel Fest.
Quan Payne, Cornell’s brother (at right in photo), stood outside the convenience store with his friend Al Mitchell (at left) as pastors’ voices echoed through cranked-up speakers on the street.
Quan agreed with the pastors that violence in Newhallville is “out of control.” He said he didn’t know who beat up the van driver. “I wasn’t looking at him,” Quan said in a soft voice, his eyes red with tears. “I was looking at my brother.”
Darrin Winfrey, 19, rolled up on his bike wearing an “RIP Cornell” pin stuck on an orange shirt. He said he came on the scene late and didn’t witness the incident when his friend died.
“It’s crazy,” though, he said of the beating. “He fifty-some years old. How do you do that?”
“I know people know what happened,” Winfrey said. He said he was not sure why no one would speak up, but he said they won’t tell him the details, either.
Gospel Fest Shooting: A “Petty” Beef
Winfrey missed the Gospel Fest shooting, which he found “crazy” too. “It’s like you go to a church and shoot up the Lord’s house.”
Morris and Brunson shed a bit of light on what they said happened that day. Brunson said he was at the festival Sunday evening when about 35 kids from the Newhallville area showed up, all dressed in black shirts.
Morris estimated there were 50 of them. The kids weren’t there for the music. They “came from this neighborhood looking for trouble,” he said. They came because they heard a kid from the Dwight/Kensington area had disrespected Cornell, Morris said. He said it was a “petty” beef, of he-said-she-said.
Both pastors were outraged at the apparent audacity of the shooter, who is said to have fired bullets while standing 25 yards away from a police officer.
Morris called for harsh punishment for the kid who fired the shots.
Barnes, the onlooker, was skeptical: “Locking them up ain’t gonna help,” he commented as the pastor spoke.
He said he served 11 years in the slammer for drug and assault charges.
“When I got in the prison system, it didn’t help me, it made me worse,” he said. “The thing is, when you come out, you do the same old thing again.”