A call for healing
Prayer vigil is latest appeal for end to gun violence
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
As a young boy growing up in South Florida, Sen. Corey Simon often heard how it wasn’t cool to tell on a friend who did wrong.
It was called being a tattletale back then.
“I think back to that time and I think of where we are now,” Simon said during his speech at a prayer vigil for a shooting victim. “The verbiage has changed but the attitude is the same: ‘Stop snitching. Don’t be a snitch.’
Then, Simon turned up his tone.
“It is time for us to stand up, step out and say more,” he said. “That’s the only way this changes. It can’t just be done with a legislative panel and a vote. It has to be done by every one of us. Not only us but those in these buildings around us, these neighborhoods around us.”
The midday vigil was organized by the “Respect Yourself” Crime Prevention Task Force, directed by Rev. RB Holmes.
It brought together community members, clergy, legislators and business leaders. Each speaker seemed somber while expressing some degree of anger and frustration.
They came together on the same basketball court outside of the Hansel Tookes Students Recreation Center where 20-year-old Travis Huntley was shot and killed. Four other people were injured.
Law enforcement arrested a suspect, 21-year-old Da’Vhon Young Jr., on the day before the vigil. He is charged with one count of premeditated murder and four counts of attempted murder. On Monday, TPD announced that a second suspect, Chedderick Thomas, 21, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He also faces four additional counts of attempted murder.
The shooting occurred at a time when Tallahassee saw a string of gun-related incidents that either took lives or caused injuries. Tallahassee Police Department has recorded more than 100 shootings this year in the city.
Holmes, minister at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and publisher of the Capital Outlook, called the shootings “a cancer that is destroying the family.”
“It is a spiritual warfare,” he added. “It is a lost sense of hope and a lack of care for life.”
Throughout the hour-long event, speakers appealed for unity in their call to end gun violence. At one point, Minister Gerald Clay played the gospel spiritual “What a friend we have in Jesus” on his saxophone.
“Throughout my 51 years of living, I’ve never seen such an increase of Black children dying at the hands of gun violence,” said Pastor Rudy Ferguson, a Griffin Heights resident who was a recent candidate for a Leon County Commission seat.
He appealed for a “commitment to the cause.”
“It is a very disheartening thing when we have to lay a young person to rest; 21 years of age, 16 years of age,” Ferguson said. “Those eulogies aren’t easy at all to have the words and comfort with family members that it’s going to be alright. We have to find a way and I believe that prayer is the essential way.”
The vigil rekindled memories of others held around the state, including the those that took place after a mass shooting that occurred in 2018 at Marjory Stonemam Douglas High School in Parkland. That prompted law makers to come up with what’s known as the red flag law, which raised the age to buy long guns, among other changes.
However, many of the shooting in Tallahassee are being done with stolen guns, according to TPD.
Each of member of the clergy offered prayer. Rev. Rosalind Tompkins, founder of Turning Point International Church, was poignant.
She asked God for healing and to “do what needs to be done and that you would give us the faith that comes with works because faith without work is dead, but the works to make a difference in the lives of the families that are hurting; the mothers, the children, the fathers, the community. … We come together in hope. We come together in faith and unity.”
While the shooting at the basketball court on Nov. 27 was the first that resulted in a death, Robert Carroll, director at the Tookes Center, said vandalism has been an ongoing problem.
He showed where bullets were fired into the rest room doors and another door was busted up to create access. Other damage includes the glass windows at Tookes Center being shot out, Carroll said.
Rep. Gallop Franklin recalled how the Tookes Center was built during his administration when he was president of FAMU student government. Shootings are contrary to the intent for the facility, he said.
He and FAMU administrator “knew that having something to do would ensure that people would not want to participate in crime,” Franklin said.
He implied that he would support legislation for more stringent gun laws.
“Criminals will find a way to get a gun, but in 2022 we have technology to put biometrics into guns where if you stole that gun you can’t even use it,” he said. “We have to be bold, we have to be courageous to create a future where we are expanding the middle class (and) standing up against policies that disproportionately affects communities of color; to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to dream.”
FAMU President Larry Robinson expressed appreciation to Holmes for forming the task force, calling it a message to victims and suspect of gun violence.
“It sends a message that we will not allow this violence to define us or to consume us,” Robinson said. “It sends a message that God is on our side. We must work together to address gun violence in our community. We are better than this. A life is more important than this.”
Afterward he added: “We have to remain vigilant. We can’t allow our whole way of life to be changed. We have to be safer, smarter and understand the threats in our midst and do the kinds of things that allow us to be safer.”
FAMU has removed the nets from the backboards on the court for the time being. They will be replaced, Robinson said.
One of the more profound prayers was offered by Joe Paramore , who is affiliated with Faith in Public Life.
“We stand together with these families that have been afflicted by senseless gun violence,” he prayed. “God, we speak to the enemy now. We speak in power and authority that through God’s grace we have the victory. Through God’s grace we stand on the promise that he will never leave us or forsake us.”