WINSTON-SALEM, NC (WGHP) – More than a hundred parents, children and neighbors met with local leaders and law enforcement officers to discuss the disturbing trend that has become almost daily in Winston-Salem: gun violence.
The school year has already been called one of the most concerning years in recent memory, with an increase in gun violence crimes linked to minors.
On Wednesday evening, Northeast Councilwoman Barbara Burke coordinated a town hall forum for families to ask law enforcement, school and courthouse officials for ways to make improvements.
Councilman Burke told FOX8, “We are here to have a conversation, and I hope that conversation leads to concrete strategies that we can move forward and implement. There isn’t just one solution. »
The forum also tracked ideas in four categories:
- Long term strategies
- Short term strategies
- Free Strategies
- Strategies needed at cost
During the forum, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neil explained that the trend of gun violence that involves minors at this point of the year worries him during the summer months.
“The fact is that these shootings, overwhelmingly, are committed by minors. . . This when school is in session. We are approaching the summer months. There is no one on this panel. We’re all worried about this summer,” O’Neil said.
Winston-Salem Police Chief Katrina Thompson responded to questions about the lack of visible patrol officers in parts of the city known to be “crime hangouts.”
She explained that her department is experiencing an unprecedented drop in recruitment requests.
A few years ago it was 2,500 per class, the leader explained. This year it has dropped to around 200, and only 15 of the 25 selected applicants will graduate, she said.
Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough announced at Wednesday’s forum that, if approved, he will assign all 34 school resource officers to assist the police department as needed after the school year is over.
Other solutions that were discussed were to connect young people, who are at risk, with gainful employment.
“A lot of the violence happens because of desperation…lack of jobs…lack of opportunity,” Councilwoman Burke said.
“These children want money. The gangs give them money. They don’t want a gymnasium, they don’t want a basketball court. They want to be able to go out and buy basketball shoes,” said Bishop Todd Fulton, a local community leader from Mount Moriah Outreach Center.
Most of these solutions involved creating a file with information and contacts for all local organizations available to help miners and their families, and funding these local groups from city or county allocated funds. , to name a few.
A section of the forum was also dedicated to ways for the community to help law enforcement with the issue.
District Attorney O’Neil stressed that individuals need to speak up when there is a crime to help authorities get criminals off the streets and behind bars. “If you see a crime being committed, people need to speak up and report what they have seen. They must be able to take the witness stand and say what evil they have seen.
A concerned citizen then asked what protections were in place to help protect those who report violence but worry about retaliation. Winston-Salem PD has an anonymous way to report.
Former Forsyth County Judge Denise Heartsfield explained that was easier said than done. “We need the boots on the pitch. This voice is missing. When we come back to the whole thing, Mr. Witness, you will have to call and leave your name. People have known for years that poor people and people of color don’t tell people anything. It’s going to take some accountability, some accessibility for that to happen.
Some families left the forum feeling more optimistic about ways to address gun violence.
Mother Micah James was not one of them.
Her son is a student from Mt. Tabor, and she participated with his group, Our Opportunity to Love + Heal.
She said she left feeling like more time had been spent explaining why things were happening and not what could be done to fix them.
“I haven’t heard a lot of problem solving ideas. No more blame or where the responsibility lies. The main takeaway was from Fmr. Judge Heartsfield on community. We have to go back into the community and be responsible for each other and take care of each other.
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