‘But I can’t talk to you’: The sound of silence in Harlem, a day after 14-year-old boy shot dead

“I loved that little boy,” one Harlem man told amNewYork Metro, referring to 14-year-old Justin Streeter, who was shot and killed while visiting his old stomping ground. “But I can’t talk to you.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the only evidence that a double shooting on East 128th Street near Park Avenue happened the day before — claimed the life of Streeter and injured a close 15-year-old friend — was yellow police tape that still clung to lamp posts and fences. There were no makeshift memorials, no photos of the boy, no flowers laid at the site of the shooting.

Locals simply went about their day, passing the crime scene without a second glance. However, their tight lips are perhaps most disturbing of all.

 On July 20, amNewYork Metro stopped dozens upon dozens of residents who remained unwilling to talk about the shooting. 

Photo by Dean Moses

“I don’t know nothing about that,” many would say, their jovial demeanor transforming into a look of horror when asked about the murder before rushing away. One mother who clung to the hands of her two small children also refused to comment, merely stating: “There is a lot going on in this neighborhood.”

During a press conference held by the NYPD on the day of the tragedy, Chief of Patrol Jeffrey Maddrey desperately pled for locals to come forward and help finger the shooter, yet it is clear according to those in the know that some dark, intimidating presence looms large over the community.

One female resident, who refused to identify herself but did stop to speak with us, offered one clue: the area seems to be a hub for gang recruitment of youngsters.

Photo by Dean Moses

“I have two kids and I don’t want people to say to them that ‘hey, your mom is a snitch.’ If I didn’t have kids, I would speak my mind,” the woman said.

“I was thinking about crossing the street so I didn’t walk by where he got shot at but I didn’t know where it was and I already walked past it but he wasn’t from this block,” she added. 

The local also believes that some kind of vigil will be held for Streeter in the future.

“We have a candle in front of the building, and I am certain they will do something for him,” she added.

The NYPD shared with amNewYork Metro that they understand reservations regarding gun violence; however, they believe in order to curb the number of tragedies and bring those to responsible to justice it is imperative for the community to speak up.

“The NYPD endeavors to proactively engage the community in order to solve crimes and bring justice to the victims. While we understand the fears of residents, hundreds of tips this year have been provided to Crime Stoppers anonymously. The reward for this senseless act is now up to $3,500 and we encourage anyone who may have seen something to call 1-800-577-TIPS where you can remain anonymous and help bring justice to these victims,” NYPD said in a statement.