'We taught them to be hard': Top cop addresses youth violence
York City’s police commissioner preached Saturday for responsibility and engagement to fight gun violence among local youths — a message to the community three days after a 17-year-old boy was shot and killed, and hours after another teen was arrested for the homicide.
Standing in the pulpit of Cornerstone Baptist Church, Michael Muldrow delivered a nearly 20-minute sermon to those gathered for a morning vigil for Malaki Beady, a city teen who was shot and killed Wednesday morning in Penn Park, a short distance from William Penn Senior High School.
“We as a community, working together like never before, we were able to get justice for that young man, closure for that family, and a sense of peace for this community,” Muldrow said.
At the end of his speech, he hugged Beady’s father, Theodeus Beady, and several attendees. Theodeus Beady declined to comment after the vigil at the church, 629 S. Pershing Ave.
The vigil was announced Friday morning. Some hours after that, York City Police arrested a suspect in the shooting. Javion Roman, 17, of York, is being held without bail on a homicide charge after he surrendered at police headquarters on King Street, police said.
After the speech, and with tears still reddening his eyes, Muldrow said detectives worked three days straight — pointing out that some didn’t go home or sleep, that they went in shifts to pick up changes of clothes — to investigate the case.
He said the size of the park as the crime scene, the early dismissal of York City schools during the shooting response, the weather, and kids refusing to talk created challenges for the investigation.
But in spite of those obstacles, people came forward with tips and information to help investigators make an arrest.
“I needed this. I think our department needed this, but our community needed this,” Muldrow said. “Everything was working against us, but to be able to bring that to a conclusion and get a disposition for that family, for that dad, in three days, that’s enough for me.”
Schools in the York City School Dstrict, including William Penn Senior High and McKinley K-8, let out shortly before noon as part of a planned monthly teacher-training day. The dismissal led to students crossing the park as police investigated the crime scene. Some parents complained about the decision to end a school lockdown amid the police response in order to keep the early dismissal time.
During his sermon, Muldrow preached a theme of “extreme ownership,” of owning faults and failures in order to improve conditions.
Gun violence in York, he said, is all local — it's kids killing kids. And incidents like Beady’s death contribute to an ongoing loss of innocence for children and youths.
“The truth is our kids were afraid to go to school the next day. Our parents were afraid to send them,” he said.
Muldrow called for better parenting with less cynicism and to stop exposing children to adult language and adult situations. He said behaviors of the past are manifesting as the actions of the present.
“We showed them anger, and we wonder why they’re angry. We taught them to be hard, to be cold, to be impatient and to be unforgiving, and we wonder why they’re full of hate and have no empathy,” he said. “Our kids didn’t change; our expectations of them did.”
He promoted current programs and initiatives the department has implemented, things he said people wanted, such as police reforms, better visibility and more counselors and outreach workers to connect with people.
And then he advocated for the new technology he’s sought, which critics have opposed, including a city video surveillance system, a drone and the ShotSpotter program, which tracks and responds to the sound of gunfire.
While critics question the cost to privacy the new tech could mean, Muldrow said people willingly give up privacy to phones, GPS devices and social media companies.
“But we won’t give it up to keep our kids alive,” he said.
Muldrow added that outrage at Beady’s death isn’t enough, that the audience should be outraged any time a teenager is shot. He called for people to take more action and to work for better families and a better community.
“Take extreme ownership over your situations, over your circumstances and over your life,” Muldrow said. “The York I love can be so much better. We’re so much more. We’ve been there, and we can get there again. We’re worth every tear, we’re worth every bruise, we’re worth every sacrifice, and we’re worth fighting for.”
Muldrow encouraged young people to start dreaming again, to pursue what they really want and be who they are.
“Don’t fall for the trap. Get your smile back,” he said.
— Aimee Ambrose can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.