Work begins to form task force to tackle gun violence
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
There was a consensus at Bethel Family Life Center that all the answers for defeating gun violence was in the room.
Tallahassee Police Department, clergy, elected officials and community leaders were all there. They got together Monday afternoon to lay the groundwork for forming the “Respect Yourself” Crime Prevention Task Force.
The call for a task force made up of several of the entities that are involved in youth development and mentoring came after a recent rash of shootings in Tallahassee.
The task force will address 15 “action items,” including working with at-risk families to provide jobs, affordable housing, job training and mentorship. Establishing the structure and work by the task force won’t be a quick fix, said Rev. RB Holmes, pastor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, who organized the gathering.
“It’s going to take a lot of patience,” said Holmes, who also is publisher of the Capital Outlook. “We’ve got to be persistent and I think if we do that we can make an impact. We had enough positive programs here that we can help strengthen and solidify and then we laid out some action items that I think will lead us in the right direction.”
Holmes explained the need for the task force in a statement released before the meeting.
“We must come together to work faithfully and fervently to fight to reduce gun violence in our community,” he said in the statement. “It is our sincere goal to identify the best practices and programs that would reduce gun violence; and to strongly advocate supporting these programs.”
One of the most devastating gun-related incidents occurred on Oct. 28 when a mass shooting resulted in the death of Demario “Ro” Murray. At least eight other people were reported shot during the incident in the parking lot at Halftime Liquor.
At least three shootings were reported during a week’s span before and after shots were fired into a crowd of about 40 people at Halftime Liquor.
Witnesses to several of the recent shootings have refused to communicate with law enforcement, said TPD Chief Lawrence Revell.
“We cannot do it alone,” Revell said. “Our community has to come together. Our community has to be willing to say enough is enough and our community has to be willing to come forward.”
Revell lamented that too many citizens leave their vehicles unlocked with weapons in them. He also said that TPD can’t prevent large gatherings unless business owners shut down and seek help from law enforcement.
But business owners aren’t willing to shut down and let the cops remove the crowd. Katrina Tuggerson, president of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce, responded by saying that the problem is that owners aren’t shutting down their stores when crowds gather because they generate business.
Gun violence has gotten the attention of the White House, as President Joe Biden recently announced funding to fight the problem. According to the New York Times, the president’s plan allows state and local governments to pull from $350 billion of resources. The funds are available to law enforcement and community-based anti-violence groups.
Curtis Taylor, president of the local chapter of the Urban League, appealed for community engagement by mentioning how his granddaughter survived a shooting. He appealed to everyone in the room to find a place on the task force.
“You need to play an important role in this fight,” Taylor said. “This has become an epidemic. This is a real war here. My own granddaughter last year was shot. Thanks to God she survived.”
Gun violence had been rampant across the country, according to a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention organization. The reports indicate that Black Americans experience nearly 10 times more gun homicides than Whites.
Daily shootings across the country take the lives of an average of 26 Black Americans. Another 104 experience non-fatal injuries, according to the organization.
Rudy Ferguson, Pastor at New Birth Tabernacle of Praise, has organized several gun violence events recently in Tallahassee. He told the audience about gangs that infest the city, although they might not be visible.
“Let me assure, ladies and gentlemen that they do exist,” he said. “They are in town. The make up from back in the day with the Bloods and Crips is not what we see today.”
He went on to echo the theme of the afternoon.
“I think we have what we need in our own communities to do what needs to be done with our children,” he said. “We have to come together and we can’t be bickering and arguing about who is getting what and who is not getting this. We have to come together to save our children.”
Crime prevention task force action plan
- Schedule City-Wide Prayer Services in at risk neighborhoods where violent crime activities have taken place.
- Support creative crime prevention programs for funding.
- Develop Respect Yourself Military Boot Camp targeting at-risk youth for alternate sentencing.
- Encourage the development of Police Athletic Clubs in public housing where crime is high and there is limited quality recreational, tutoring and mentorship programs.
- Expand the city’s highly successful TEMPO program to include more at-risk youth and collaborate with Goodwill Industries for summer employment for at- risk youth
- Develop, if needed, ordinances that will prevent and prohibit violence: i.e. shootings at mass gatherings.
- Work with at- risk families to provide jobs, if needed, affordable housing, job training and mentorship programs.
- Support boys academies and after school programs in at-risk neighborhoods.
- Bring concerts, mini-fares, food and clothing drives in at- risk neighborhoods on a consistent basis; replicate the city’s highly successful “Frenchtown Rising” community initiative.
- Expand city, county and school meetings in at-risk neighborhoods to increase community awareness of how government works.
- Encourage faith-based and community leaders to ride patrols with law enforcement in at-risk neighborhoods.
- Provide financial incentives to recruit young men, particularly those living in marginalized neighborhoods to join the military.
- Develop a comprehensive All Boys Academy Pre-Kindergarten through grades 1-5.
- Establish a working partnership and collaboration with faith-based groups in particular and the Sheriff’s Status of Black Men and Boys.
- Advocate and support law enforcement and encourage increased compensation to recruit and retain the best and most gifted police officers available.