South Winston groups unite to talk about public safety

South Winston groups unite to talk about public safety
October 04
04:00 2018

By Carolyn Highsmith

Special to The Chronicle

On Tuesday, Sept. 25, three neighborhood associations in South Winston-Salem (Easton, Konnoak Hills and Morningside/Reynolds Park) sponsored a “Neighborhood Summit on Public Safety and Crime” at the Southside Public Library. 

Panelists from the Winston-Salem Police Department and the community came together for a discussion, moderated by Robert Leak III, president of the Easton Neighborhood Association, on ways to deal and cope with the increased violence and violent incidents that citywide neighborhoods see coming from outside their neighborhoods. Of concern are especially shootings, as well as violent incidents that erupt from among residents who live within city neighborhoods. 

Panelists from the Winston-Salem Police Department were represented by Capt. Renee Melly from Police District 2, Sgt. Ryan Phillips from the District 3 Street Crimes Unit and Corporal Korn from the WSPD Gang Unit.  Panelists from the community were Nakida McDaniel from Moms Demand Action (for gun sense in America), Effrainguan Muhammad from Winston-Salem Nation of Islam and David Villada from the “Beating Up Bad Habits” youth program.

The police panelists gave an overview of the current gang and drug situation in Winston-Salem.  Corporal Korn reported that most of the gang issues are coming from local hybrid gangs where there is no gang hierarchy in leadership along with a lack of strong leadership that in turn helps create situations between individual gang members and between rival hybrid gangs that can lead to violence. 

Captain Melly stressed that the Police Department needs the community’s help in dealing with crime incidents, especially help in removing the stigma of cooperating with the police in neighborhoods.  According to Sergeant Phillips, the Police have been very proactive regarding the recent shootings in North and Northeast Winston-Salem.  He also talked about a program that the Gang Unit supports to help at-risk youth and young adults get out of gangs.  Sergeant Phillips also urged citizens to call the Police or CrimeStoppers if they see any gang or drug activity in their neighborhoods so that the Police can continue to be proactive rather than reactive.

Effrainguan Muhammad from Winston-Salem Nation of Islam said that neighbors need to know and support their fellow neighbors in order to help decrease the fear that can become pervasive in an urban neighborhood.  His organization adopts neighborhoods and uses Peace Walks to get neighbors to open up about the effects of crime and violence in their neighborhoods.  Mediation services are offered if needed. 

Nakida McDaniel from Moms Demand Action addressed ways to eradicate violence such as by promoting safe guns laws at the state and federal levels, executing interactions among community wherever gun violence occurs, centralizing firearm data, identifying people highly at-risk for violence, and tapping into funding sources for gun violence survivors to decrease the risk of victims being re-victimized. 

According to David Villada from Beating Up Bad Habits, there is not enough citywide funding support for those grassroots organizations that are doing the real work with youth on our city streets, plus are continually being obstructed by the systemic issues of crime, violence and poverty.  The impact of community involvement cannot be under-estimated.  David Villada talks to youth on the streets who tell him they can’t live without a living wage, so of course they will seek out the more lucrative illegal activities.  Community members need to be engaged in open and honest conversations about what’s really happening at the street level.

During the audience question and answer period, one audience member identified the need for local law enforcement to build better relationships with the local schools to help improve the image of law enforcement overall and especially to create a better relationship between the students and the school resource officers.  David Villada also pointed out that members of law enforcement need major teaching in cultural competency especially with regard to the spelling and documenting of foreign-sounding names so that such names are properly entered into the law enforcement data systems.

Villada also said that there is a lot of violence that moves from the neighborhoods into the schools, making certain local schools unsafe for both the students and their teachers.  More education about gangs is needed for all students starting in the elementary grades to help students resist the lure of gang culture. 

Since middle school students are involved in gangs and drugs, there is also a critical need for more programs to engage these youth to keep them from being recruited into gangs, because what these kids are really looking for is affection, love, and acceptance. 

The concepts of conflict resolution and restorative justice were also discussed as critical learning tools for both students and adults.  Restorative justice focuses on rehabilitating offenders by reconciling with the victims and the community-at-large; that is, repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior.

Carolyn Highsmith is president of the Konnoak Hills Community Association

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