Khloe is 7 years old and her left hand was in her father’s right as they walked down a Bronx street early Sunday evening. She was wearing a summer dress. Her hair was in pigtails.
Back in the spring, the whole city had been filled with the sirens of ambulances responding to COVID-19 cases. Then had come the protests over police brutality, and squad car sirens were everywhere.
But the protests had subsided and the city had quelled the virus, at least for the moment. And New York seemed a better place to be on the Fourth of July weekend than Texas or Florida or Arizona.
As Khloe and her father, 28-year-old Anthony Robinson, reached an intersection, a car seemed to be about to make a right turn. They paused at the curb, but the driver hidden by tinted windows didn’t turn and drove slowly ahead.
Khloe and her father proceeded across the street. As her father glanced at a man on a bicycle blocking the sidewalk, a hand with a gun extended from the car’s front passenger window and fired four times.
The father was struck in the back, the girl’s hand suddenly empty as he fell in the crosswalk, mortally wounded.
The little girl was absolutely alone with a danger as big as violent death itself. She started to run straight ahead, but that was in the direction that the car had been rolling. She veered to the right and kept running, unscathed, eventually reaching the safety of her mother’s home nearby.
Police sirens were followed by an ambulance siren. The father was rushed to Bronx Center Health System but proved beyond saving.
More sirens came two hours later, when two other men were gunned down three blocks away. A total of 64 people were shot between Friday and Monday, 11 fatally. There were 21 people shot on the same weekend last year.
At a Monday afternoon briefing, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan addressed a spike in shootings over the weekend and during June.
“There is not one reason for the violence we’ve seen over this past month,” he said. “There are many reasons.”
His list included bail reform and prisoner releases due to COVID-19, and hundreds of people who were caught with a gun but continue to walk around because the courts are shut down. He said there were also the long days of protests that he said “crushed the morale” of the cops. And he mentioned City Council legislation that he said leaves officers wondering how they are going to arrest a violent prisoner without ending up liable for criminal charges and maybe a lawsuit. And he said the NYPD felt compelled to shut down its anti-crime units, which were specifically tasked with getting guns off the street.
Much of that was specific to New York and explained why the NYPD is struggling to keep from reverting to when it was Fear City. A reminder of how New York once was and may yet be again comes from Chicago, which is a third the size but saw at least 80 people shot over the Fourth of July weekend. Seventeen died, including a 7-year-old named Natalia Wallace, who was killed by a stray round.
A one-word explanation for the carnage there and elsewhere came from Andrew Holmes, who is with Chicago Saviors, a nonprofit that attends to the needs of families who have lost loved ones to violence. He came to this analysis by going from murder scene to murder scene to murder scene, then as many times to the medical examiner’s office to assist the grieving relatives in making a formal identification of the body. He figures you can discern the cause by the result.
“Anger,” he said on Monday.
He did not elaborate. He had been with the 7-year-old’s family and he had more to do.
“I have to go see the family of a 14-year-old now,” he said.
Holmes has suggested at other times that many of the killings in Chicago arise from seemingly petty disputes. The same is true in Washington, D.C., where city “violence interrupters” such as Crystal McNeal work to make peace between groups of young people who are liable to war over even minor slights.
As President Trump was giving his second divisive speech of the weekend and holding a Fourth of July party at the White House on Saturday, McNeal was hosting a peace-building cookout on the other side of town. She brought along her 11-year-old son, Davon.
“He was learning how to give back to the community as well by looking at what his mother was doing,” the youngster’s paternal grandfather, John Ayala, told The Daily Beast.
As mother and son were leaving, she parked outside her sister’s house so Davon could dash inside and get a phone charger. A group of five young men began shooting, and Davon was fatally struck by a stray round.
Davon was not even supposed to be in Washington that weekend, Ayala said later. He had planned to take Davon to Florida, but the trip had been canceled when COVID-19 spiked there. A violence spike in his home city had now claimed this fledgling peacekeeper.
“He wouldn’t have even been here,”Ayala said.
Ayala heard that the shooting had been the result of just the kind of dispute the mother continually sought to defuse.
“A neighborhood beef,” Ayala noted.
He reported that McNeal was saying that her days as a professional peacekeeper were done.
“Most people, when they have a tragedy and they already have it in them to help the community, they usually go back and go back harder,” he said.
He spoke as a longtime peacekeeper himself. He is originally from New York and as a teen joined the Guardian Angels, who wore red jackets and berets and sought to counter crime during the out-of-control bad old days. He moved to Washington 32 years ago to start a chapter there. He feels sure that the gangs will not be able to end the violence without guidance.
“They’re not going to go to the table on their own,” he said. “They need somebody to bring them to the table and mentor them.”
And back in Ayala’s old hometown, a beef of some kind had left Anthony Robinson dying in a crosswalk. And his 7-year-old Khloe has a forever empty left hand.