'You can't shoot a baby in this town': Law enforcement sends message in York City

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

After the Dec. 6 homicide of Demetres Lewis, the 21st homicide in York City this year, law enforcement agencies had enough.

And so began Operation Callout, a multi-agency coordinated effort that led to several arrests and the seizure of multiple firearms and drugs.

"We're here today because another man lost his life and a baby and his mother were shot," York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow said at a Monday morning news conference, referring to Lewis' death and a Dec. 9 shooting that injured three people, including a 3-year-old. "The community's tired, we're willing to do anything we can do to change your life because we want you safe alive and free, but if you don't stop, we're going to do what we have to do to stop you."

The 21 homicides committed this year in York City are the highest ever recorded in a single year in the city.

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Last Wednesday, approximately 84 members of law enforcement were in action in York City as part of the Group Violence Initiative the city has participated in for several years. Forty-eight suspects were arrested between Dec. 7 and Dec. 14; eight were federally indicted on firearms charges, 16 individuals were arrested on firearm and/or drug charges, and 26 were arrested on outstanding charges. In addition, 12 firearms were seized, as were quantities of cocaine and marijuana.

"This is going to be what happens each and every time you endanger this community and the good people in it," Muldrow said.

U.S. Attorney Jerry Karam said the office has been participating in the GVI for some time and had warned defendants that if they used a gun, there would be significant consequences.

U.S. Attorney Jerry Karam discusses recent gun violence during a press conference held at City Hall in York City, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"Last week and today shows that those aren't just words. Individuals who were arrested and picked up last week are now going to face the full force and effect of the federal government," Karam said. "When it's a federal offense, it's going to be serious and significant jail time."

Among the entities to participate in Operation Callout were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

York County District Attorney David Sunday struck a fiery tone at Monday's news conference, as well as thanking law enforcement for putting their lives on the line.

District Attorney Dave Sunday discusses recent gun violence during a press conference held at City Hall in York City, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"People have the right to not be worried about bullets hitting their homes and their cars and their loved ones as they're going about their business," Sunday said. "This is us showing that we follow through. This is our job, and we're going to continue to do it."

Tiff Lowe, project manager of the Group Violence Initiative, said the program works to keep people safe, alive and free and to stop the violence.

"We will help you as a community if you let us, but law enforcement will arrest you if you make them," Lowe said.

Gun Violence Initiative (GVI) Project Manager Tiff Lowe discusses recent gun violence during a press conference held at City Hall in York City, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

That was the message at a GVI call-in in October, where members of the GVI program, other agencies and community members speak to those who are affiliated with illegal group activity.

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"York City, enough is enough," Lowe said. "This community and this team is tired of the violence. We're tired of hearing parents screaming because they lost their child. We're tired of our community being afraid to sit on their porch. We're tired of being afraid and wondering who's next."

Mayor Michael Helfrich said that it's heartbreaking that the city has had to end up in this position again. He noted both he and Lowe knew some of the people who have grown up and gotten into trouble.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich discusses recent gun violence during a press conference held at City Hall in York City, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"We offer services and education but still they go the wrong way, and that's when everybody else steps in and removes them," Helfrich said. "We all have a right to be safe, we all have a right to enjoy our neighborhood, and a few individuals are taking our rights away, and we're not going to stand for that."

Helfrich implored anyone who's connected with young people to give support, love and what they need so they know their lives are worth more than ending up in a grave or in prison.

"We want more graduation, we want less funerals," Lowe said. "We want more success stories and less prison stories. And the only way this will work is if we, as a community, work together."

Lt. Matthew Irvin, law enforcement lead of the GVI, said of the 12 guns recovered, two were ghost guns, guns that don't have a history and are difficult to track. One handgun had been illegally modified to fire rounds at a rapid rate. They were working to see if any of those firearms were connected to shootings or homicides, he said.

It's going to take multiple efforts to reduce gun violence, Muldrow said, including operations like Operation Callout, enforcement and outreach efforts like GVI and credible messengers.

"We're not deterred by what we're doing because of the number hitting 21 this year," Muldrow said. "This work is a good work, and we're not going to veer away from the strategy. If at all we're going to apply even more pressure, because at the end of the day all I want to say is you can't shoot a baby in this town. And that should be more than enough to get law enforcement upset, that should get the community upset. We have to have some limits."

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.