Oleksandr Gavronskyy does not attend church, but when the gunshots rang out Monday, he was wearing the gold crucifix his elderly mother gave him before he emigrated from Kiev to the safest big city in America.
Two of his coworkers were shot before the deranged gunman took his own life, but Gavronskyy escaped unscathed. He afterward stood down the block from C&A Iron Works in South Brooklyn, his right hand clutching a welding mask, his left fingering the crucifix under a shirt doubly sweated by a long morning of honest labor and then a sudden run for his life.
“This guy—Boom! Boom!” the 48-year-old welder said of the total stranger who appeared just after 11 a.m., inquired about a job, and then pulled a gun from a black bag and started firing when told he would have to speak to the owner.
Gavronskyy reported that he had all the more reason to consider his mother’s gift a protective charm because he had been uncomfortably close to another shooting over the weekend. A 10-year-old boy had been hit in the leg by a stray round on a street near Gavronskyy’s home at the end of Coney Island.
“Crazy,” he said.
He pulled the crucifix from under his shirt and it glinted in the bright midday sun.
“My mommy,” he then said.
The incident on Monday occurred a half-dozen blocks from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s home and came after a weekend in which 23 people were shot, including the 10-year-old in Coney Island.
Four of the victims died, but murder is still down by more than 10 percent over last year.
The worrisome statistic is that shootings are up by roughly the same percentage.
The NYPD is studying whether there is a correlation between the increase in shootings and the sharp curtailment of the stop-and-frisk practices that de Blasio railed against during his successful campaign last year.
What he should be railing against with equal passion now is illegal guns. His predecessor, Mike Bloomberg, did so at every opportunity.
De Blasio did join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which Bloomberg founded. And de Blasio has stopped the NYPD’s practice of auctioning off spent shell casings from the practice range to ammunition manufacturers, the last batch having been bought by Georgia Arms.
Georgia is one of several states whose lax gun laws result in a continuous flow of illegal guns into New York and other cities. The Daily Beast has noted that sex toys are banned in one Georgia town, but guns are just fine. Never mind that guns generally are a kind of sex toy. Most gun nuts have them less for self-protection than self-projection. They speak of the Second Amendment, but it is really an amendment of another kind that propels them.
But New York’s new mayor has spoken more passionately about banning carriage horses from Central Park as inhumane than he has about the unending gun violence.
During the campaign, de Blasio spoke with great concern and compassion about young people of color who were stopped too often in the street by the police without probable cause.
What about the ones who are shot down in the street?
In April, 13-year-old Gama Droiville of Brooklyn survived being hit by two stray rounds in the head—one in the right eye—while waiting for a bus with his aunt. He miraculously survived, and his first impulse was to reassure his horrified aunt that he was OK. His stated desire was to sing once again with his church choir.
Even the safest big city in America is not so safe.
“This is an innocent 13-year-old going about his business, and now he’ll be scarred for life,” de Blasio said of Gama in a radio interview. “He sounds like an amazing young man. He sounds like somehow he kept his spirits up and he comforted his own family members who were so aggrieved.”
But that was pretty much it. There was no further fury, no declaration that enough is enough.
At the hospital, the police presented Gama with an award for his courage. The Mets invited him to sing the national anthem after he was well enough to go home. He graduated this month from middle school.
Amid all that, he should have been invited by de Blasio to stand on the steps of City Hall.
And, in spirit if not in flesh, they should have been joined by another leader, one who has had at least three shootings—two fatal—within a half-dozen blocks of his home over the past two years.
The latest was in May, when 15-year-old Aaron Rushing was shot to death in a bank parking lot on a Sunday afternoon six blocks from President Obama’s house on the South Side of Chicago. That city has routinely had shooting victims in the double digits on a weekend, and it is one-third the size of New York.
Obama happened to be in town the following Thursday, when there was a candlelight vigil for Rushing. Obama instead attended a pair of political fundraisers, though one was for Sen. Dick Durbin and was unquestionably worthwhile. Durbin has spoken out fearlessly against the NRA while so many of his colleagues in Congress cower.
Just as Obama was heading back to his house that night, a 14-year-old named Kevin Diaz became the latest Chicago gun fatality. The presidential motorcade and its mass of flashing blue lights could have swung by as a toddler looked down at the body and said, “What happened to Kevin, Ma?”
As the president retired for the evening, a cop borrowed a garden hose to wash away the teen’s blood.
Obama said nothing of either killing. He did speak out after another 14-year-old, Emilio Hoffman, was killed in an Oregon school shooting.
“We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens,” Obama said during a Q&A session with a gathering of young people at the White House sponsored by Tumblr.
He was understandably and rightly roused to added outrage because a school is supposed to be a sanctuary. But that does not excuse or explain his relative silence about the continual mayhem around his own home and in other streets across the country.
Even the safest big city in America is not so safe. The NYPD notes that illegal gun seizures are down this year over last, from 495 to 335. The department hopes that it will be able to quell the rise in shootings with 1,200 new cops who were graduating from the police academy even as Oleksandr Gavronskyy raised his mask to see a man with a 9 mm automatic.
“Everybody get out! Everybody get out!” one of the other workers at C&A called out in a demonstration of selfless bravery.
One worker was shot point blank in the chest, another in the shoulder. Gavronskyy took shelter in a storage area. The 54-year-old gunman barricaded himself in a tool room.
The cops who responded to the latest 911 call of shots fired summoned the emergency service unit and the hostage negotiating team. ESU Det. Joe Delre began speaking to the gunman and was joined by the department’s chief hostage negotiator, Lt. Jack Cambria.
The gunman threw out the key to a van that he said was parked nearby with a shotgun inside that was in fact recovered. He then threw out a black object that had wires coming out of it and looked like it might be an explosive device but proved harmless.
The cops kept talking to him, for some 45 minutes. They then heard a shot.
“We had a positive dialogue going with him, but he just made the decision to pull the trigger,” Cambria later said.
The two wounded workers had already been rushed away in ambulances, one in critical condition and the other stable. Paramedics now headed into the shop with a stretcher to aid the gunman. The stretcher came out empty and the coroner arrived.
Down at the corner, Oleksandr Gavronskyy stood talking about arriving in New York from Ukraine six years ago and how he had been very happy at work, welding steel for buildings and fences.
“A good company,” he said. “Very good company.”
He had been alarmed enough by the shooting near his home over the weekend. And now there had been more gunfire at his workplace near the mayor’s home.
“Gun,” he said.
He was fingering the gold crucifix when he was asked if he planned to tell his mother, who was no doubt relieved in recent days that her son was far away from the turmoil of Ukraine and in the safest big city in America.
“No, no, no,” he said.