Anthony Newerls says that in his 20 years of working with anti- violence programs in the city, never has his job been more challenging.
"COVID definitely exposed some of the underlying conditions that we have in our community today," Newerls says.
Newerls is the program director of BIVO, Brownsville in Violence Out, which gives young people in this Brooklyn neighborhood alternatives to violence by providing them with supportive services, including job training. When crime started to rise this year, Newerls saw a direct connection to COVID.
"We have so many people unemployed now who can't get jobs," he says.
He says some of those who lost jobs turned to violence .
"It's very difficult now," he says. "We have to do more canvassing. We have to be on the street more now."
His group is out on the street and on social media with violence interrupters called credible messengers.
Nyron Campbell used to be involved in crime. Now, he tries to be part of the solution by reducing potential conflicts in the neighborhood through medication.
"We feel the tension. We feel it. It’s like a funny feeling," Campbell says.
Campbell and Newerls say the closure of after-school programs and community centers because of the pandemic also played a role in the crime spike.
"That’s what these kids need. That's what they need. More outlets, as much as we can possibly funnel through," Campbell says.
They even saw a change when the city took down the basketball rims in city parks and playgrounds to limit the kinds of crowds and contact that can spread the coronavirus.
Then in July, when the city reopened the courts, they thought tensions in Brownsville seemed to ease.
18-year-old John English and his friends grew up playing ball at Chester Playground.
"It keeps kids out of trouble because kids come together, you know. You make so much friends playing basketball," English says.
The courts are named for a 14-year-old who was shot and killed here two years agom a reminder that basketball can't solve everything. But John and his friends say it does help.
Over the summer, BIVO kept some kids out of trouble by giving them jobs handing out masks and other protective equipment.
Newerls and Campbell say jobs and more resources for young people are keys to this neighborhood's future by providing a reminder that’s there a better way.
"Let them know, 'Listen violence is not the way. Get a job , work hard, take care of your kids your mother, they love you. We love you," Newerls says.