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Bland Houses live with fear

Brian Maguire, the 109th Precinct commanding officer (c.), asks the residents of the Bland Houses to come forward with information they may have regarding recent acts of violence near the houses. Photo by Rich Bockmann
TimesLedger Newspapers

Frustration and fear predominated at a meeting held at Flushing’s Bland Houses last Thursday night as police and community members attempted to persuade one another to put an end to a recent spate of violence before it escalated any further.

Officers from the 109th Precinct told the dozens of people gathered in the houses’ normally vacant community center that they knew all the principals involved in a series of events that led to two shootings at the houses within the stretch of only a few days, and asked them to report any information they had.

Many in attendance said they feared for their safety and believed the police would not be able to protect them from further acts of retaliation.

On Sept. 10, 21-year-old Marquis McKinney was shot in his upper thigh as he waited around outside 133-50 Roosevelt Ave. for a friend, according to his sister, Diamond Peterson, who said the two grew up in the houses but no longer live there.

Without naming McKinney, 109th Precinct Commanding Officer Brain Maguire described the victim as “deceptive” because he refused to identify his attackers.

“It turns out it may have been retaliation for a Friday night beating. A male took matters into his own hands and rallied his brother,” Maguire said.

According to police, Christian Freeman, 24, and Jermaine Sie, 31, were both arrested and charged with possession of a loaded firearm after leaving the scene Saturday. Freeman was also charged with resisting arrest and wearing a bullet-proof vest.

The mother of the two men, Valerie Freeman, said Christian had been confronted by several unnamed individuals twice in the past three weeks and was visiting his daughter and girlfriend at the houses when he was attacked in a stairwell Friday.

“This time they hit him with a gun. They let him go and then went upstairs and they jumped her,” she said. “They said, ‘Your man is next if you say anything about this.’”

She said her son owned the vest because he had been shot two years earlier. Freeman said her sons got the guns from their friends but did not shoot McKinney.

The mother of Freeman’s girlfriend was brought to tears when she asked where the police were when her daughter was attacked and said her children begged her not to contact the police.

Gunfire erupted again outside the houses Sept. 12, around the same area as the first shooting, according to state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing).

Maguire said he did not expect anyone to submit information during the public meeting and pointed out that there were a number of ways people could talk confidentially with the police.

“We know who the players are. We know their names, their apartments and their buildings. We need individuals to come forward,” he said.

When it seemed as though the conversation had exhausted itself, the topic shifted as resident Juanita Rodriguez suggested violence could be prevented if the community center, which was closed in 2008, were opened once again to the youth.

City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) said the city allocated $50,000 to the center, but it could not be donated because the houses’ tax ID had expired.

The houses’ resident association president said he was working to reinstate the ID.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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