Unpacking trauma

How bullets can harm a Valley Stream neighborhood long after the violence


The boom of gunfire sent dozens running for cover at an illegal party at an event space at Ocean Avenue late last month. That night, the lives of five young people became collateral damage in what police officials describe as a lethal scrap between warring gangs: the Crips and the Bloods.

While four of the five survived the shooting, the life of 20-year-old DeAndre Carter of Brooklyn was viciously cut short shortly after being fatally shot in the chest. Neither he nor the four others gunned down had suspected ties with the respective gangs, said Detective Captain Stephen Fitzpatrick. That didn’t matter, however.

Their mere attendance at a party, which happened to be hosted by Crips associates, was enough justification for these innocent partygoers to be caught in the Blood’s line of fire.

“Our victims are at a Crips party,” said Fitzpatrick. “So, the perception is that they’re Crips for being there.”

Investigators revealed at a press conference last week the capture of alleged Bloods member Kyle Matthews, 21, of Uniondale. At the same time, they indicated Matthews allegedly did not act alone. In fact, a search was underway for a second gunman. Within roughly two days, their manhunt was over and alleged Bloods member Isaiah Gonzalez, 21, of Far Rockaway was in custody.

Both men face charges of murder and criminal possession of a weapon and if convicted, could be sentenced to life in prison. Both have outright denied any allegation of wrongdoing. Both have lawyers prepared to defend their innocence. 

Now, as the tension of the investigation seems to simmer, a neighborhood, jolted by grief and fear, struggles to find the best way to move forward in the aftermath. What to make of this sudden intrusion of gun violence in their home? And who, if any, should be held accountable?

Outraged neighborhood leaders have taken aim at a shared source of concern: the existence of the event space, known as Dopie’s World, and the neighboring smoke shop on the commercial strip, a stone’s throw away from residential homes. Some neighbors complain of noise and disruption. Others complain of the unrestricted sharing of alcohol and drugs on their street. Mostly, it’s the unruly type of crowds they claim these spaces unwittingly attract.

“We’re starting a petition to ask that the license or the permit for that space be revoked,” said Legislator Carrie Solages who hosted a community meeting with neighbors of the strip. “You know, just because the owner said that they had in their contract that alcohol cannot be consumed, that doesn’t mean that she waives the rest of her responsibility.” 

Solages added cracking down on out-of-control, overcapacity house parties that he says have exploded in popularity in Valley Stream.

But early into the investigation, police officials made it clear that, apart from this tragic incident, the event space has an otherwise solid record of hosting legal and respectable parties. Its owner, Deborah Young, asserted that she had no knowledge of any illegal activity happening under her roof. Rather, police officials preferred to shift the focus to the alleged gunmen’s unsavory history with the law and shady criminal connections.

When wrestling with questions about what’s next, however, there is a look at the tragic event from the view of public health.

Chidubem Iloabachie, an emergency room physician, and associate chair of emergency medicine at the Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital, said efforts will be needed to tackle the unresolved trauma that has gripped Valley Stream and its neighboring communities.

Public health experts note that the consequences of gun violence have rippling effects that scar the lives of the survivors and shakes schools, communities, and families around it.

Carter leaves behind a family in anguish. And his death is a cautionary reminder of the nation’s growing tally of Black men and boys dying at disproportionate rates from firearm-related homicides.

“Everyone can be a potential victim of gun violence,” said Iloabachie, who has treated scores of patients at level-one trauma centers and in inner-city hospitals plagued with gang violence. “But the burden of gun violence, overwhelmingly throughout the United States, in the form of targeted homicides or attempted homicides, is borne by young black men.”

Then there are also three teens, and one 12-year-old child who, though narrowly escaping death amid a torrent of bullets, are recovering with their lives permanently altered.

Society often downplays the physical injury of those afflicted with gunshot wounds. “On TV, if the good guy is shot in the arm, they put on a sling and go about their day,” said Iloabachie. In real life “the projectiles from guns can shatter bones, rip through muscles and nerves, pass through intestines so that you never regain full functionality ever again.”

Those are just the physical effects. Those who have directly been victims of a shooting, have witnessed it, or live close to the violent incident are at greater risk for suffering from a host of mental issues from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, and self-harm. Feelings of helplessness and fear are widespread.

“We know that overwhelmingly, the best predictor of someone who’s going to be violent is someone who has previously experienced violence,” said Iloabachie.

Public health experts argue that those afflicted with gunshot wounds may obtain a gun and are more prone to resolve conflicts with a gun, particularly if they feel they have little recourse in a world they perceive as unsafe.

New research also suggests that about 1 of every 14 gunshot victims will be injured by a firearm again within a year, with the risk increasing within five to eight years.

“The truth is gun violence is brutal,” said Iloabachie. “And it causes the most awful consequences even after people survive it.”

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