Leaders seek answers to city’s crime rate


By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Vanessa Williams’ prayer room is one of the places where she feels safe most times — with one exception.

There have been a few times when shots rang out in her Bond neighborhood while she was prying. Each time she felt uneasy.

“I don’t know where the shots are coming from,” said Williams, a minister. “This has got to stop. This is too much.”

Williams talked about her fear at the intersection of Kissimmee and Keith streets, where city, religious and community leaders gathered to voice their concerns about a recent uptick in shootings. Curtis Taylor, president of the Urban League, said the organization held the press conference to encourage residents to get more engaged in taking action against crime.

The press conference was held last Thursday, just six days after police found a body with fatal gunshot wounds in a crashed car. The victim has not been identified.

“Next it could be your son, your daughter, your relative,” Taylor said. “It is time for our citizens to get into the game and do something.”

Kate Kile of Mother’s Demand Action said her organization is committed to finding answers to reduce crime in the city.

Michael DeLeo, chief of Tallahassee Police Department, made a similarly passionate plea for community engagement to help solve crimes in the city.

“The police department, the Sheriff’s office; we can’t do it alone,” said DeLeo. “The fact that we have faith leaders and family members here, that’s when real change comes within the neighborhood.”

Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox was more succinct in explaining why residents should be outraged over the city’s crime rate.

“I’m tired of hearing or receiving a text message that someone has lost their life,” Williams-Cox said. “We need everybody. We don’t need to lose anybody.

“Go back and tell your neighbors that this has to stop. Zero tolerance. That’s where we are.”

Reducing crime in the city, however, seems to be an audios task. Just two days after the press conference a shooting was reported on Texas Street. It was the sixth shooting in the last four weeks and the 23rd shooting this year.

According to a recent report on crime, Tallahassee saw 17 murders in 2017. That year, Tallahassee also had the highest crime rate in the state for the fourth time since 2014.

Kate Kile, who heads up the Tallahassee chapter of Mothers Demand Action, told the crowd that Blacks usually are the victims of gun violence and firearms have taken the lives of too many Black children and teens.

“We cannot accept that as a city, as a state or as a country,” Kile said. “We are paying attention and we are committed to finding solutions that work for all of us.”

Many in the crowd said despite the event taking place in Bond that crime – especially gun violence — is a concern for the entire city. Some, including Rev. R.B. Holmes, said the problem is deep rooted.

Holmes and Mayor John Dailey cited mental illness and a lack of job skills as two of the main causes. Dailey said a jobs program that the city will launch in a month as a vital step.

“Violent crimes in our neighborhoods have to stop,” Dailey said. “The city of Tallahassee is committed to working day in and day out with our neighborhoods and also our faith-based community.”

Dailey also lauded the Greater Bond Neighborhood Association for its effort to push for revitalization, noting that the effort has received a commitment of $6 million from the CRA. The Bond neighborhood group has been working with TPD for several years and in 2017 got the city to install cameras in some areas. 

Jacqueline Perkins, who heads up Bond’s public safety committee, said there has been a drop in crime in neighborhood, while pleading for a city-wide effort in the fight against crime.

“This is not just about Bond,” she said. “This is bigger than Bond. It’s bigger than the northeast and northwest. It’s all of us working together to reduce crime and eliminate gun violence.”

Rudy Ferguson, who heads up the Frontline Pastors Action Council, said crime in the city has reached “a state of emergency” that he and the members of FPAC are doing something about.

Last Monday, the ministers launched week-long schedule of discussion on ways to stop gun violence. It culminates with a rally-picnic at John G. Riley Park on Saturday.