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The Human Price of Our Budget

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Summertime in Brooklyn should be a carefree time, a time for rest and relaxation with family and friends. Tragically, it has become a season of bloodshed for too many of our young people, and fun has been replaced with funerals for young people like Dequan Mercurius, a fifteen-year old fatally shot on a school playground in East Flatbush on July 16th. I have held too many mothers at vigils in my district, mothers who will never see their son or daughter again. Our communities have been torn apart by gun violence these past few weeks, and as the heat continues to rise, the threat of more brutality will continue to increase.

This is not only a serious crisis for New York City, but it is a serious black eye for Mayor Bloomberg. The drastic cuts he proposed forced the City Council into a bad budget deal, which I voted for with a heavy heart. I voted yes, because of the last-minute restorations to important programs like Immigrant Opportunities Initiative, Alternatives to Incarceration, Domestic Violence and Other Violence Emergencies and others. But this was not a celebratory budget because lives still were negatively altered, and the greatest victims were this city's at-risk youth.

All of the tools we possess in the fight against youth violence were seriously hampered by this budget. Having fewer social workers to assist juvenile offenders will raise the likelihood of recidivism. The complete elimination of the Peter Vallone scholarship takes another choice away from our young people. And our city's youth programs might have taken the worst hit.

Last year's cuts to the Department of Youth and Community Development resulted in fewer youth participating in Beacon programs and the Summer Youth Employment Program. This trend will only get worse in the coming year, keeping us from reaching thousands of our at-risk youth. Additionally, funding has been denied to many of our city's community-based organizations, like East Flatbush Village, a non-profit in my district that provides sports, cultural enrichment and academic programs to at-risk youth. Programs like these build young people's self-esteem, self-respect and the tools needed to uplift themselves and their community; social science research has shown that engaging our youth in this manner can help stem violent behavior. Without them, gangs fill the void and lead our young people toward criminal activity. It still remains too easy for our youth to get a gun into their hands as opposed to getting it out.

What upsets me most is that the mayor had the ability to prevent these cuts. There was money that could have been drawn from the Health Insurance Stabilization Fund. Also, there was money in the city's rainy day budget; to me, seeing our youth shot in the streets more than qualifies as a "rainy day." And then there's the millionaire's tax, which experts say would raise at least $450 million for the city, which would go a long way to taking care of our at-risk youth. Mayor Bloomberg did nothing to stand up for them in Albany on this issue, and that nothing spoke volumes about where his priorities lie.

While it is difficult to quantify the one-to-one impact of a budget on a specific issue like an uptick in youth violence, all anecdotal evidence points to the correlation between cuts in youth programs and jobs to idle youth, which are too often at risk for violence. Funding issues by themselves are not the sole cause of this violence; however, they represent an important factor of the multi-pronged solution. The mayor blew this opportunity, but it is not too late for him to take a public stand and defend future potential victims.

The murder of Nicholas Telemaque on July 4th put an overdue focus on the gun violence that has plagued Brooklyn over the last several weeks. It is unfortunate that it took the high-profile nature of this tragedy (Telemaque is the cousin of rapper Nicki Minaj) to bring this attention, but now that it's here, we must seize the moment and act. These victims may not be people the mayor associates with, but they are the sons and daughters of his city.

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams represents the 45th Council District, which covers Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, and parts of Midwood and Canarsie. He is the chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee and the Co-Vice Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. He was first elected to office in 2009.