By Isabel Song Beer
Gov. Kathy Hochul convened the first meeting of her Interstate Task Force on Illegal Guns Wednesday, bringing together leaders for a talk on dealing with spikes in gun-related crimes and finding ways to stop shootings and get illegal firearms off the streets.
Speaking at the New York State Intelligence Center in Greenbush Jan. 26, Hochul addressed the epidemic of gun violence and announced how New York State was in the process of introducing legislation in order to combat it. She also honored and mourned the losses of two NYPD officers, Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera, who were fatally shot in Harlem on Jan. 21 while responding to a domestic call. The gun used in their killings was illegally purchased in Baltimore back in 2017.
“As a state, our hearts are broken by the knowledge that this time last week we had two young men in their twenties, two young men who had their entire lives ahead of them – one with a new spouse – and that was all shattered with a gun,” said Hochul. “And that is what we are talking about today, so we can get to a point where we don’t grieve [but] we also celebrate our success and know that we have turned the corner on fighting gun violence.”
The press conference focused on how the state and city governments would work together to combat and decrease gun-related crime. Hochul also announced a collaboration with neighboring states to stop illegal guns from being sold and brought in across state lines as well as decrease the dramatic increase of these illegal weapons.
“Where are these guns coming from?” said Hochul during the briefing. “They are not originating in the state of New York. We have identified and traced states where they are originating and why the murder rate is higher. There’s a phenomenon going on here that we are going to study and understand why this is the case. That as we enter 2022, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of guns finding their ways through our borders and into the hands of criminals.”
Also speaking at the press conference was Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, who expressed his eagerness to work with law enforcement as well as nine different states to dampen the gun epidemic’s recent spike – as well as also offer condolences to the families of the NYPD officers killed.
“It is so essential that the work we’re doing here today acknowledges that we can’t only focus on what happens at the moment [in these situations],” said Benjamin, a Harlem resident. “Yes we want to hold these individuals accountable, but we must also hold the supply chain accountable where the legal guns got to that place, because if we do that, that will help us to end this scourge.”
Following the meeting, Hochul announced the selection of Calliana S. Thomas as the Director of the New York State Office of Gun Violence Prevention (OGVP). In accordance with the Governor’s new plan to combat gun violence in New York State, the OGVP will collaborate and organize with the Division of Criminal Justice System services as well as other state agencies to direct resources to combat gun violence related hot spots.
Thomas is a lifelong Harlem resident known for her approaches to elevate community voices in order to make impactful changes within neighborhoods. She also spent seven years working with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Violence Prevention program.
“Taking strong action against gun violence requires a multi-faceted approach,” Hochul said. “Calliana S. Thomas is a dedicated public servant who will be a critical asset to our efforts to fight this public health crisis, combat gun violence, and keep New Yorkers safe.”