A Death Lays Bare Conflict Between Anti-Gun Violence Group and Residents at a Queens Housing Project

The victim was a 41-year-old man who worked as a porter at a women’s health center. He was fatally shot at point-blank range in the second-floor hallway of a Queens housing project that was once notorious for gun violence. Police think the death, the only murder there this year, was a revenge killing, but withheld the motive.

While the shooting, at the Baisley Park complex in South Jamaica, understandably opened old wounds, it also uncovered tensions that arise between residents and a civilian anti-crime group whose mission is to tamp down gun violence.

LIFE Camp was started 17 years ago and is funded through an initiative called New York City Crisis Management System out of city council and the mayor’s office to reduce gun violence in New York City.

A makeshift memorial for Raymond Rue at the Baisley Park houses in Jamaica, Queens. Mr. Rue, known as Poncho, was shot in May. Aileen Perilla/NYT Institute

Resolving quarrels is half the battle. The other half is persuading the community to join forces, and defending its role in the aftermath of a shooting. When someone dies, the organization’s effectiveness can be questioned as residents cope with another life lost.

The day after the porter’s death, dozens of men and women from LIFE Camp, who patrol the housing project in bright orange jackets, gathered outside the building of the crime scene to send a message that their anti-gun crusade would continue.

But their message wasn’t universally applauded. “You don’t belong here!” some residents shouted. They said LIFE Camp was hurting, more than helping, with its efforts at mediation and ground patrols.

“I had to go with my little walker in the middle and stop it,” said Ondrea Gail Harris, a resident at Baisley since 2002.

Police are stationed across from the Baisley Park houses in Jamaica, Queens. An anti-gun group has been trying to persuade resudents that violence is not necessary. Aileen Perilla/NYT Institute

Dennis Mapp, 42, a managing director at LIFE Camp who is known as Prince, said he was not surprised at the resistance. “Some of the people at Baisley don’t see they live in dangerous conditions,” he said. “They’re so accustomed to living this type of life. They almost expect to get shot.”

News of the dispute carried to the office of Yvonne Reddick, the district manager for Community Board 12, which oversees South Jamaica, Queens. She said that LIFE Camp and similar organizations have helped significantly with safety efforts and that some pushback is expected.

“There’s nothing wrong with both sides expressing, but you have to treat each other with respect,” Ms. Reddick said.

LIFE Camp is part of the New York City Crisis Management System that operates in 20 sites within 14 precincts. One of its partners is the Citizens Crime Commission. Through its violence intervention and prevention system, a team of “interrupters,” people who intervene in conflict or steer youth and residents from vehement situations, are dispersed to different neighborhoods.

LIFE Camp, whose name stands for Love Ignites Freedom through Education, hires community members with violent pasts or who have served time in prison and now seek to steer youth away from crime. But such efforts take time, and they don’t always work.

The killing that most recently roiled the Baisley Park Houses took place around 2 a.m. on May 16. Word of the death of the porter, Raymond Rue, spread swiftly throughout Baisley’s five buildings, which are bordered by the Long Island Rail Road tracks and Foch and Guy R. Brewer boulevards. Residents, who struggled to make sense of his death, said Mr. Rue, known as Poncho, was well liked.

Staff at LIFE Camp, an organization looking to reduce violence in the community. Their efforts are sometimes met with hostility. Aileen Perilla/NYT Institute

Mr. Mapp, the LIFE Camp director, said he had been friends with Mr. Rue since grade school and understood why residents were sometimes critical of groups like his. Growing up in Baisley, he said guns gave him a sense of self.

When he was 18, Mr. Mapp was shot the first time. Later, when he was shot in the upper body, the wound gave him street credibility. But it was also a wake-up call to change his ways. Mr. Mapp shares his story with youth as an admonition.

He said one young man told him that getting shot would help him join a gang. “He wasn’t even thinking about his life in the moment,” Mr. Mapp said. “They feel like they’re nothing until they touch a gun.”

But residents sometimes find LIFE Camp’s approach overbearing. Ms. Harris, the Baisley House resident for 16 years, said that several times, as she was walking toward her building, a LIFE Camp member brashly demanded she go inside.

“They run out here like they’re going to attack someone,” Ms. Harris said. “When something happens, we usually ask them not to come over.”

The frustration works both ways. Roderick Jones, a supervisor at LIFE Camp, said he intervened with a teenage couple brawling outside one of Baisley’s brown brick buildings, when the young man threatened to shoot him.

“It’s intense sometimes, and it can be stressful,” Mr. Jones said.

With residents nearby, he made the split decision to calmly walk away.

“They push back,” Mr. Jones said. “Then, when they’re in trouble, they want us to come in.”

Keeping peace between residents and the community group is a delicate dance, but positively impacts public safety, said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“They can make a contribution to reducing violence, it’s not a miracle cure,” Butts said. “But when these organizations work with residents and the police, it does work.”

State Senator Leroy Comrie, whose district includes Jamaica, proposed several bills to enforce identification for gun purchases. All of them failed. Eight people were killed four years ago in the 113th Precinct, which includes Baisley. Mr. Comrie attributes the 87 percent drop in murder in the precinct since that time to Cure Violence organizations.

“Emotions are high after a tragic event,” he said. “It’s an offshoot, and they all get riled up.”

For several years, local elected officials and activists petitioned for a community center where Baisley residents can discuss their concerns, which is important to programs like LIFE Camp, according to Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission.

“The way you build trust is by communicating and being transparent about your goals and how you intend to operate,” Mr. Aborn said.

During the protest after Mr. Rue’s death, as the frustrated crowd grew smaller in front of Baisley, LIFE Camp members crossed the street. On the sidewalk, they formed a circle to review their conduct. Overall, they felt they had done well. “We definitely move when stuff pops off,” said Stephanie Reed, a program manager at LIFE Camp.

But another LIFE Camp member, Kashawn Dobbins, tucked his hands in his pockets, titled his head and said, “I just wish the community was more involved.”