Community leaders, stakeholders come together to discuss gun violence

Nearly 200 concerned citizens gathered at Carl Russell Community Center last week to discuss the recent rise in gun violence.

Community leaders, stakeholders come together to discuss gun violence
June 02
09:16 2022

There were few empty seats inside the gymnasium at Carl Russell Community Center last Wednesday evening, as nearly 200 people came together to discuss strategies to help stop the recent rise in gun violence and other violent crimes. 

To date there have been 19 murders in Winston-Salem, compared to only 15 at the same time last year. And with the summer months approaching, that number is expected to grow. The town hall was scheduled by Winston-Salem Councilmember Barbara Hanes Burke. She said the event wasn’t just about talking, the goal was to come away with real solutions. 

“When we leave here today, the goal is to have strategies that we can agree on and that we can implement going forward to make you feel safer, to make all of us safer, and for Winston-Salem to be a safer place,” Burke said.

Panelists for the town hall included Winston-Salem Police Department Chief Catrina Thompson and assistant chiefs William Penn and Wilson Weaver, Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough, Tricia McManus, superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools (WS/FCS), District Attorney Jim O’Neil, retired District Court Judge Denise Hartsfield, and Bishop Todd Fulton. 

Former WXII anchor Talitha Vickers served as moderator for the town hall. Vickers asked the panelists questions that were submitted by the community. She allowed people in the audience to ask their own questions as well.

To jump start the conversation, Vickers asked District Attorney Jim O’Neil, how can we convince every citizen that the fight against violence is a citywide issue and not just those who live in high crime areas? O’Neil encouraged people to be brave and report information that they know or have seen. He said it’s not enough to just call 911 anonymously and say there was a shooting. 

“We have to be willing to talk about what it is we saw, report what it is we saw, so that the perpetrators of violent crime can be held accountable. It does no good just to call 911 and say there was a shooting on my block. You have got to be willing to give your name, provide your name, follow through on prosecution, and the folks that are causing the violence can then be plucked out of the community and sent to jail. It’s that simple,” O’Neil said. 

The second question was directed to Chief Thompson. She was asked about police response time and staffing for the department. “The community is requesting more officers. Catrina is also requesting more officers,” Thompson said. She said over the last several years law enforcement has seen a major decrease in staffing and the issue isn’t exclusive to the WSPD.

“Between the negative perception of law enforcement and, let’s be honest, there have been some actions by people in uniform who had the authority but they were not law enforcement officers. And because of their actions, the trust that we spend so much time trying to build has been eroded,” Thompson continued. “Some people will just never believe or trust us, I get it. But that does not stop my team from doing the work every day that we need to do to earn that trust.” 

After nearly two hours of back and forth between the crowd and some of the panelists, it was clear that both sides agreed that the issues in our community are directly linked to economic opportunity and advancement, and money. Bishop Todd Fulton, chair of the social justice committee of the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity (MCWSV) talked about Project Grow, a program where young people receive pay for working in a community garden. He also talked about the need for more mentors and volunteers in local schools. 

“We are not the only program that’s doing this. They’re several people in the room who are doing the same thing, but we need funding, we need money,” Fulton said. “But don’t let me just stop there … Raise your hand if you have volunteered in the Forsyth County School System in the past two years … or did anything to help mentor children. Charity begins at home. That’s how we’re going to change the system, by going in these schools and get these kids at an early age and making a difference.”

Denise Hartsfield echoed Fulton’s sentiments during a brief interview following the town hall. She said the issues are clear and we must keep the conversation going. Hartsfield also mentioned the need for more gun regulation laws. 

“I think it’s clear that the issue in the communities that we’re speaking about is money or the lack thereof,” she continued. “At the end of the day let’s talk about it. Let’s work together to cure this gun thing and that’s going to be the federal government, state government and local government. We’re all going to have to work to change these laws. 

“My biggest takeaway is that we all want the same thing, we want better. We want better for our communities, we want better for our children, we want safety in our homes, we want safety in our communities.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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