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by Peter Moskos

March 18, 2016

A Cloak of Silence After a South Bronx Killing

Benjamin Mueller and Al Baker in the New York Times describe one homicide in the Bronx. "To understand why killings persist in an era of historically low crime, The New York Times is reporting this year on each murder in the 40th Precinct." This is the kind of in-depth story that informs.

If we're going to improve things, where do we start? Sure, the Collazos need help. But then so do my students who grow up as his neighbors. While Fredo is selling drugs and smoking weed in the lobby -- and non-residents complain that "non-violent drug offenders" like Fredo are being harassed by police -- my students have to get by him and his crew to get to my class. Some people manage to make better life decisions and finish high school and get jobs and graduate college and get better jobs. In a world of limited resources, who do we help? And how many red flags do there need to be?

A "broken window" in action. Cause nothing says respect to your neighbors like "RIP Fredo" burned into the ceiling of the hallway.

Here's a name and a face and a life. 20-year-old Freddy Collazo:
Mr. Collazo’s father, who was addicted to heroin, served nearly two years in state prison for drug sales. His parents separated when he was in his early teens.
Mr. Collazo’s ... slashing in May 2012; his wounds — including cuts to his head, ear, left elbow and right middle finger — were recorded by the police, despite his refusing to talk to officers at a hospital.
He got a .32-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver after the 2012 slashing — a requisite precaution, friends and relatives said.
But Mr. Collazo was coy, even with close friends, about why people wanted to hurt him. When Ms. Soto asked how she could help, her son acknowledged being in trouble but insisted, “No questions.”

When he was sent to jail on Rikers Island, his father, whose name is also Alfredo Collazo, was already there, having been locked up four days earlier on drug charges.
He had expensive tastes in clothes, favoring name-brand polo shirts.

He popped prescription pills, including Percocet, smoked marijuana in the lobby of his apartment building and sold drugs, sometimes under the banner of Forest Over Everything but just as often on his own.
Mr. Collazo dropped out of Herbert H. Lehman High School in the 11th grade.
Mr. Collazo was arrested again in April 2014, this time for marijuana, but he only had to pay a fine. He walked around as if he were invincible, friends said, relying on his crew for protection as his street feuds piled up.

His ability to keep avoiding prison time created suspicions among his crew.

Last May, Mr. Collazo entered a residential drug-treatment program in Brooklyn.

His anxiety ran so deep that Mr. Collazo once badgered a new student who he thought had been looking at him too much.
In late February a hooded gunman crept up behind Mr. Collazo. The first bullet severed Mr. Collazo’s spine and blew through his heart, killing him before he hit the pavement. His cousin, Luis Cruz, ran.

Then the gunman stood over Mr. Collazo, 58 days past his 20th birthday, and with a .45-caliber pistol pumped at least six more bullets into his body, leaving a total of 10 entry and exit wounds.

Sgt. Michael J. LoPuzzo, the commander of the 40th Precinct detective squad, said Mr. Collazo was “assassinated.”

But Mr. Cruz has told Mr. Collazo’s mother that he will not say who the killer is.

“I told him, ‘Please, you was there, go to the cops and tell them what you know,’” Mr. Collazo’s mother, Glenda Lee Soto, said. “He told me he’s not going to do it. He’s not going to go down for a snitch. He’s not going to rat nobody.”

Chief Boyce said people’s reluctance to speak with investigators “doesn’t mean we stop — it just means our task is all the more difficult.”
At his funeral the next Sunday, two young men were handcuffed by the police as they entered the funeral home parking lot; the police said they had arrested one person, for having stolen license plates.
Friends scrawled tributes on the wall — “F.O.E.,” “For you we gon bang bang,” “Ima put them under dirt” — and raised their lighters to the ceiling to burn “RIP FREDO” into the beige paint.

The lobby became choked with marijuana smoke. Mr. Collazo’s raps blared from his friends’ cellphones and echoed off the walls. The group scattered when two officers arrived, responding to a neighbor’s complaint.

But slowly they returned.
And some people? Out of all this? Of all they could criticize? They would find fault with police for maintaining order in the lobby of a public housing building. Nothing but police harassing innocent children of color as they mourn the untimely death of their friend.


aNanyMouse said...

I’d quite like to know what Freddy’s papa (and mama) did for a living when Freddy was conceived, and whether any effort was made to get Freddy into a foster home once papa got hooked on horse.

If we’re gonna have programs helping addicts etc., we should require that they refrain from reproducing, ‘til they’ve overwhelmingly showed that they’ve become qualified to be parents. Any kids that they nonetheless produce should be automatically put into the foster care system.

When unqualified parents are allowed to continue to control kids, the odds of the kids turning out OK are really low. A parent's power over a child cannot be considered a right per se (despite strong biological links), but must be earned to SOME minimal degree.

Almost no matter how much it costs to fix this sort of underappreciated injustice, the fix figures to cost less than the price we’ve been paying for allowing losers to dump traumatized kids into society.

Moskos said...

One problem is that foster care is hardly a great solution. There's a good bit of research that, on average, kids like Fredo are better off with their mom than bouncing around foster care. Just cause Fredo accomplished little doesn't mean others in a similar environment don't succeed. The odds may be stacked against them, but some make it.

One might also consider that if we front-loaded some of that prison money into child care, both supportive and coercive, it might do some good. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars per person per year. But we choose to only "invest" that amount money in an individual after they get convicted.

aNanyMouse said...

I’m hardly shocked that research would show what you claim, given the current funding levels of the foster system.

But I’ll bet that the data would become quite different, if we front-loaded some of that prison money into the foster system, esp. for HUGE raises in the financial incentives for would-be parents to adopt kids from that system, instead of these adults physically generating their own offspring. (These added offspring become extra burdens on the environment, whereas foster system kids are already here, so their transfer to competent adults adds no extra burdens upon the environment.)
A crucial criterion would be that these foster parents (can afford to) live in a hood devoid of the huge gang influences which overshadow the efforts of so many mamas of guys like Fredo.

Scattered sight housing was a start, but it left the kids under the influence of mamas who’d grown up in brutal Hoods, and who thus knew virtually nothing about how to teach their kids about getting on in any places other than these brutal Hoods.

It’s not fair to expect kids to learn how to see, from teachers who are blind. Better that a kid grows up under one Ellen Degeneres (in a well-off burb), than under his biological parents, both of whom know nothing other than the ways of the Hood.

aNanyMouse said...

Moreover, the neighbors of Ellen Degeneres are much more likely to be accepting of HER adopted kid, than if he lives in their midst with his biological parents, both of whom know only the ways of the Hood, but know nothing about what washes in Ellen’s hood, and so are outcasts there. Ellen has the bona fides with her neighbors, to see to it that her adopted kid isn’t an outcast. Huge diff.

William Young said...

"One problem is that foster care is hardly a great solution. There's a good bit of research that, on average, kids like Fredo are better off with their mom than bouncing around foster care."

Seems to me that perhaps the best solution would be to have the child in the care of the mother, but the whole family in the care of some sort of supportive/supervised housing. So imagine you have a mom who was got in trouble once for smoking crack, and then another time the police were called because mom's new boyfriend hit one of the kids. Instead of child services taking away the kids, maybe put the entire family in supervised housing. Have the mom in a supervised housing where there is a curfew, there are routine room searches for drugs, where no strange men are allowed into the living quarters, etc. Rather than give up on the mom, coach her up, and add some discipline to her own life to make her a better mom.

aNanyMouse said...

@ William

They MAY be better off with their mom in such a facility than bouncing around foster care, provided that, if she tries to take them with her on trips outside the facility, it’s only with super-solid supervision, incl. with vid capacity.