Shootings had dropped sharply in South Jamaica, Queens, after local leaders engineered a cease-fire. Now, the area faces an even greater crisis as the coronavirus spreads.
Shootings had dropped sharply in South Jamaica, Queens, after local leaders engineered a cease-fire. But there is no negotiating with a virus.
10:40 a.m. ETNot long ago, the main public health threat facing people living in and around the Baisley Park Houses complex in South Jamaica, Queens, was one that had taken too many young lives: gangs armed with guns.When a 14-year-old shooting baskets
was killed accidentally in Octoberby a bullet fired in a gang dispute, the death galvanized the neighborhood to take action. Community leaders negotiated a cease-fire and shootings had dropped significantly by earlier this year.Now, the area faces an even greater crisis as the coronavirus spreads through the Baisley Park development’s brick high-rises and down the nearby blocks of blue-collar homes, and this time those being taken to hospitals and graves are mostly older residents with little or no connection to gun violence, residents and officials said.
“We are losing the matriarchs and patriarchs in our neighborhood,” said Erica Ford, who founded LIFE Camp, a nonprofit group that tries to stem street violence. “We had just managed to bring shootings down. Then the virus made its way here.”It is a predominantly black area, and during the peak of the crisis, in early April, nearly 70 percent of the residents of the ZIP code that covers it who were tested for the virus tested positive, according to city Health Department data. At least 144 people from the ZIP code have died.
Across New York City, the death rate for black and Hispanic residents has been much higher than it has for other racial groups, underscoring longstanding and persistent inequalities in the nation’s largest city.Before the outbreak reached its peak in the city, killing more than 800 people a day,
it was already ravaging low-income neighborhoods,many of them anchored by public housing developments and burdened by high rates of poverty and crime.Sept Jones, a funeral director in the area, said he would typically retrieve two or three bodies a day from local homes before the pandemic. By mid-April, he said, the number was in the double digits.
“I actually had to shut down my phone,” Mr. Jones said. “There were too many bodies to pick up.”ImageKalema McKethan died on March 31.Not all the victims have been older. One night in March Kalema McKethan, a 36-year-old civil servant, returned home to the Baisley Park Houses with exciting news for her mother and 13-year-old daughter: She had just been promoted to supervisor at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Days later, she developed an itch in her throat, followed by what seemed like common cold symptoms. Within a week, she began to have trouble breathing and went to a hospital.“I spoke to her on the phone everyday,” an uncle, Ellis McKethan, said. “She tried to stay optimistic, but in her voice, she sounded scared.”
On March 31, Ms. McKethan, who was otherwise healthy, died of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.“It just hurts, the way she left and how quickly,” her mother, Lillian McKethan, said.It took nearly two months and calls to a dozen funeral homes before Ms. McKethan’s family was able to find one in Brooklyn that could arrange a small memorial service. “They were all overwhelmed,” her sister, Karinda Colon, said.
The funeral, with everyone maintaining six feet of distance, left family members feeling cheated. “She was embraced by everyone,” her uncle said. “And now we can’t even say goodbye the right way.”Au Hogan, the president of the Baisley Park Houses Tenants Association, said that the pandemic had hit the complex’s residents project hard.
“This is a different kind of enemy,” he said. “This is a real gangster. You won’t even see it coming and it will take all of your loved ones.”ImageJunior Miller’s mother and brother died of the coronavirus.Credit...James Estrin/The New York Times‘We’re Just Lost’
Days after Ms. McKethan’s death, Mary Alice Miller, 69, who lived an apartment building less than a mile away, died of Covid-19. One of her sons, Jermaine Miller, had succumbed to the virus two weeks earlier, three days shy of his 45th birthday.Ms. Miller and Jermaine had been inseparable, family members said. When he was diagnosed with the disease in March, she found it heart-wrenching not to be able to visit him at the hospital.
“My mom was just scared," said Junior Miller, 50, one of Ms. Miller’s three children. “She was not eating. She was just worried about her baby.”Jermaine Miller’s health deteriorated rapidly. He died on March 19, leaving a wife and two children behind. About a week later, Ms. Miller developed symptoms eerily similar to her son’s, including a severe back ache and labored breathing.
“She never had contact with my brother while he was sick,” Junior Miller said.He was to bring his mother to the hospital and leave her at the entrance. By April 1, she had been found to have Covid-19, he said. A day later, she called him with ominous news.
“She told me she felt like she was passing,” Mr. Miller recalled. “She told me she loved us and to stay strong. I said, ‘No, Mom, I will see you tomorrow and call you from the parking lot.’”She died early the next day.It was shockingly fast demise for a woman who had been an active and healthy matriarch of her family, her son said. Ms. Miller had recently taken a part-time customer service job at Madison Square Garden after retiring with the Postal Service. Before he died, Jermaine Miller, had dedicated his life to
working with troubled youth in Southeast Queens, his brother said.On April 27, more than 400 friends and relatives attended a virtual funeral service for mother and son. Ten other relatives also got sick with the virus but recovered, Mr. Miller said.“We still can’t come to grips that we lost them both,” Mr. Miller said. “We are just lost.”
ImageJunior Miller, left, with his mother, Mary Alice Miller, and his brother, Jermaine in an undated photo.“It’s a very, very cruel virus.”Many of the people in Southeast Jamaica who were exposed to the virus were bus drivers, cleaners and blue collar medical professionals who could not afford to stay home while the pandemic subsides, said Adrienne Adams, a City Council member who represents parts of the area.
Ms. Adams said she feared that many of small local businesses, like the barber shops that double as neighborhood gathering spots, will not have the financial resources to reopen when New York State’s stay-at-home orders are lifted.“This has been a horrible, horrible season for black and brown people,” she said. “The number of people ill is extremely high.”
Ms. Adams’s father, who is 84, was found to have the virus after he was taken to Long Island Jewish Hospital with heart failure symptoms. Once a robust, fiercely independent man, he has appeared thinner and lethargic during FaceTime conversations from the hospital, she said.
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'she feared that many of small local businesses' is ungrammatical; it would be grammatical if you deleted 'of' or added 'the' after it (but you'd need some more words to make 'the' correct, like 'in the neighborhood'). edjsandoval Any shoot at coronavirus. This is ungrammatical for lack of 'a' before 'shockingly': 'It was shockingly fast demise for a woman who had been an active and healthy matriarch of her family.' These quotation marks are straight instead of curly. edjsandoval
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