When New York City police announced arrests in January in connection with the murder of a 17-year-old on Coney Island, none of the three people charged were of driving age. A 13-year-old stabbed Nyheem Wright, police say. His friends, aged 14 and 15, were accused of helping him.
According to prosecutors, the fight began outside of school over a girl. The boys, who turned themselves in, now face maximum sentences ranging from nine years in prison to life behind bars.
“The kids [kids] involved are minors,” recalls April Leong, principal of Liberation Diploma Plus High School, where Nyheem Wright studied. “They’re kids. »
From 2018 to 2022, teenagers have been arrested and charged with murder in the city at twice the rate of adults. Forty-five minors between the ages of 13 and 17 were arrested and charged with murder last year, nearly double the number in 2018, according to the state’s Criminal Justice Services Division.
Violence is breaking out faster and more often today than before the pandemic, according to law enforcement and education authorities. Conflicts that originated online and escalated as threats were exchanged behind screens began to spill over into the real world. Children explode with anger when they pile into the subway, when words are exchanged on a Brooklyn park bench and outside schools after class.
The proliferation of firearms and the consequences of the disruption caused by the pandemic in schools – including the increase in the number of students who miss school and fall behind academically – have added to a constellation of factors that have destabilized young people. For lack of being on-site at the school, students were detached from its stabilizing influence, especially in poor communities, where gun violence was already higher and where social services, housing and access to amenities are often deficient.
During the 18 months New York schools were closed due to the pandemic, deaths were higher in black and Latino communities, and black youth were more likely to lose a caregiver. two. All of the teenagers charged with murder in New York last year were black or Hispanic, according to state data.
According to Joseph Allen, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia, the pandemic and the disasters that have accompanied it have caused a “short circuit” in adolescents at a time in their lives when they are learning to manage conflict.
“It’s like taking all the calcium out of a person’s diet during a growth spurt,” Allen said. “The person can survive it, but there is a real risk of bone fracture. And that’s what we see. »
Crime in the city hit an all-time high before the pandemic, but violence began to spike as the coronavirus raged. A recent study of four major US cities, including New York, found that the rate of underage victims of gun violence nearly doubled during the pandemic. Black minors were the main victims, says Jonathan Jay, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health and lead author of the report.
Teenage violence in New York has manifested itself across the city. In July, police announced that a 15-year-old boy had stabbed and killed 14-year-old Ethan Reyes after an argument in Harlem. In December, a 17-year-old girl was charged with shooting 14-year-old Prince Shabazz in the Bronx.
In January, a 16-year-old boy was charged with stabbing 20-year-old Justin Shaw in Queens. Three other youths, ages 13 to 17, have been charged with gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon in connection with the crime.
A 16-year-old was charged with shooting 15-year-old Unique Smith while he was sitting in a Brooklyn park with friends after school in September.
In Coney Island, Nyheem Wright is said to have finished high school this year at the small school founded by Leong, designed for students who are older than students at the same level as them or who fall behind in other areas.
Ms. Leong says she has a close relationship with the approximately 200 students who attend the school. Students and their parents confided in him about the effects of the pandemic on their mental and emotional health, as well as the fact that they were experiencing “a different kind of assault.”
Nyheem’s mother, Simone Brooks, claims that the day before the murder, her son told her that he had fought to defend one of his best friends. The others involved in the scuffle were gang members, Ms Brooks says, who then branded him in revenge.
Nyheem Wright’s assault took place over two city blocks on a Friday after school.
Nyheem Wright was standing with his twin brother outside a mall when three boys surrounded him, prosecutors said. The two older ones kicked and punched him. The youngest stabbed him in the chest, prosecutors say.
Nyheem Wright took refuge in Mermaid Optical, a block away, and was transported to Maimonides Medical Center, about 20 minutes away. He died the next day.
Ms Leong says Nyheem Wright is not the first student she has lost to violence since the school was established 16 years ago. She adds that the deaths won’t stop until community leaders — educators, social workers, law enforcement officials and politicians — cooperate to find tangible solutions.