Bronx District Attorney demands tougher laws for teens with guns

Tuesday, November 16, 2021
Bronx DA demands tougher laws for teens with guns
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N.J. Burkett talks to Bronx DA Darcel Clark about her efforts to try to curb shootings in her borough.

CONCOURSE, Bronx -- The Bronx has seen a surge in gun violence this year and shootings are up more than 28% compared to last year. An increasing number of those attacks involve teenagers.

To try to curb the shootings in her borough, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark wants more teens charged with gun violence to face judges in criminal court instead of family court.

"People who are killing our members of the community need to be held accountable," Clark said.

Clark says it's a crisis. In some sections of the Bronx, gunshots echo through the streets in the middle of the afternoon.

The shocking scenes are no longer unusual with teens opening fire on teens in a seemingly endless cycle of gang violence and retribution.

"Boys and girls are being shot and they're doing it in broad daylight," Clark said. "There's just no respect for human lives."

Under New York State law, anyone under 18 arrested with a gun is prosecuted in Family Court, unless the gun is displayed or used.

Prosecutors say in many cases, the teen is released on probation only to be arrested again on similar charges, or worse.

That's exactly what happened in September when a 17 year-old on probation shot and killed a college student, mistaken for a rival gang member.

"We're working day and night to put evidence together to build a case against somebody, but we build the case it goes to Family Court and they're not held accountable," Clark said. "We're working day and night to put evidence together to build a case against somebody, but we build the case it goes to family court and they're not held accountable. Then what are we doing? It's like we're not doing our job."

The State Legislature raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18, which took effect two years ago.

But Clark insists that the change has allowed teens to carry weapons with little or no fear of prosecution. She believes the law should be amended, so most gun arrests will be prosecuted in criminal court.

"When prevention doesn't work, prosecution has to happen," Clark said. "And people need to know that if you make that decision to pick up a gun and just carry it around or shoot somebody or kill somebody. There are consequences."

But critics say the law was passed for a reason.

"That's what it means to be an adolescent, they don't adequately weigh the consequences of their actions," said Lisa Freeman with the Legal Aid Society.

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