Organizers hope youth rally brings change in crime
By Oldens Lafortune
By the end of last year, Tallahassee had seen almost 75 shootings, some taking lives.
At about the same time, FAMU head football coach Willie Simmons and his team was putting the finishing touches on a successful season. Although it was a season unlike any the Rattlers hadn’t seen in years, the violence on the streets of Tallahassee got Simmons’ attention.
Last Saturday, Simmons and a cast of civic organizations came together at Walker-Ford Center to celebrate young people with a program billed as “Peace Up, Guns Down We Believe in YOUth,” with the intention on impacting the city’s high crime rate.
“We’ve seen an increase in the amount of gun violence here in our capital city over the last year and we got fed up,” Simmons said. “Enough of us got fed up and we decided to do something about it and put our head together and came up with this great event today.”
Along with Giving Hope Again, others that joined forces with Simmons included Tallahassee Police Department, Moms Demand Action, Adult Community Education, Bond Community Health Center, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, Leon County Sheriff’s Office, DJ Dap’s Loreen Matthews Foundation.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement Crime Report ranked Leon County No. 1 amongst counties in the state with well over 4,000 criminal offenses per a 100,000 population.
Although the crime rate has have dropped, the county was still ranks No. 1 for a fifth consecutive years.
Seventy-three shootings were recorded in Tallahassee/Leon County last year. More than 50 of those results in injuries, while 19 victims have died. Many of the guns used in those crimes were stolen, according to TPD, which reported 53 guns were stolen from automobiles.
Ricardo Lewis, co-founder of the non-profit organization Giving Hope Again, said that after a recent murder in nearby Quincy, he and Simmons walked certain neighborhood and found that the kids felt that nobody had cared about them.
“That spoke volumes because I grew up in a non-traditional household,” Lewis said. “When I was growing up there were people, there was village that raised me… there was a community that poured into me and I became everybody’s son.”
Several youth organizations, including the Junior Lamplighters, performed during four-hour event. City Commission Diane Williams-Cox was among those who spoke to the crowd that packed into the gymnasium at Walker-Ford.
The civic organizations took the opportunity to promote their cause, some with handouts.
Katie Kile, local leader of Moms Demand Action, an organization that fights for safety measures and lobbies for laws to protect people from gun violence, said the event was one that the organization couldn’t miss.
“We want to show them (young people) that we believe in them, that they are important to us, that we care about them,” Kile said. “We want them to grow up in communities where they feel safe and free.”
While Simmons and Lewis promise more similar events, TPD Terry Major’s message to the youth was very simple.
“Gun violence could never be solved until we have people in our community to start speaking out,” he said.