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Posts tagged as “Gun violence”

Peace vigil stirs mourning, pledges to curb street violence

On Sunday, men and women in bright green baseball jackets and fluorescent yellow masks took possession of a corner of McDougald Terrace where several shootings have occurred over the last five years.

While the Bull City United members finished setting up, people who live nearby and supporters from other neighborhoods rolled in, by foot and in cars. Joyful songs like “Before I Let Go by Frankie Beverly and Maze played from speakers as people greeted one another. 

A street outreach program founded in 2015, Bull City United, tries to reduce gang and gun violence by framing it as a contagious disease that can be treated and prevented. The group’s strategy involves detecting and interrupting conflicts, identifying and treating high risk individuals and changing social norms. 

Many team members come from Durham neighborhoods where this violence is most common. They hosted seven vigils across Durham last week to honor the Week of Peace. The vigils remember people lost to gun and gang-related violence and work to spark hope that things can and will change. 

After Bull City United’s Keshia Gray teared up reading names of people killed in Durham in 2020, team member David Johnson took over. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama

Durham experienced a surge of gun violence last year. From Oct.1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020, the number of people shot in Durham soared 59% to 221 people, according to police data. One out of every six gunshot victims in Durham during that time was younger than under 18, including eight children younger than 12.

On Sunday, David Johnson, a Bull City United supervisor, welcomed attendees as they arrived, most of whom he knew by name. Once more than 20 people gathered, Johnson took a mic and addressed the crowd.

“We are out here trying to show our love and support,” he said, adding how grateful he and the United team is for people joining them to seek change. “Y’all have shown us nothing but love.”

Johnson introduced  Keshia Gray, United’s outreach coordinator, who knows the McDougald community because some of her family lives there. “It sure is good to be home, y’all,” she said. “But one thing that is getting up out of here is gun violence.”

Determined whoops and “Yes Ma’ams!” escaped from the crowd.

Bull City United has not been as visible in recent months as it was after launching in 2015. Gray said it is growing now, pointing to Ty Robinson, a young man in the process of becoming a conflict mediator. She knew Robinson originally as a person at risk of being exposed to violence, she said.

“Gun violence is not normal, depression is not normal, the effects of gun violence aren’t normal,” she told the crowd. “Burying your children is not normal and we are not going to allow it to be normal.”

Gray invited any mothers who lost children to violence to speak. Mothers were there, but none stepped forward.

Gray then read names of people killed by gang and gun violence in Durham in 2020. DaShawn Jones was on the list. So were Benjamin Smith, Terry Bradshaw and Kordell Young. Gray choked up shortly after naming Young, who was fatally shot on March 20 last year.

“He was one of our own,” Gray said, noting Young was active in Bull City United.

Seeing Gray overwhelmed, Johnson took over reading names. Starting with Jose Rodriguez, Russel Dukes, Jr., Phillip Jones, then Anthony Adams, Jessica Cortez Luna and Joshua Lindsey, he listed many more.

Ashley Canady, president of McDougald Terrace’s resident council, sang at Sunday’s vigil. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama

Once 40 names were read, the mix of families with young children, young and older men and women, and quiet, bereaved mothers shared a moment of silence. 

Ashley Canady, president of McDougald’s resident council, walked to the center of the group and started singing “Hero,” by Mariah Carey. The lyrics fit with the push to encourage community members to work together to reduce violence. “When you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong, and you’ll finally see the truth, that a hero lies in you,” she sang.

As Canady continued, United team members in the green baseball jackets passed around white and green star-shaped balloons, another tribute to people lost last year. Everyone released the balloons together. A wave of quiet passed through the crowd as they watched the balloons rise to the sky. 

“Peace is a lifestyle,” said Gray, back on the mic. The people surrounding echoed the words back to her. 

After Gray led a short prayer, people lined up for boxed meals of soup, sandwiches and cupcakes. They picked pandemic goodie bags holding hand sanitizers, fluorescent masks with a Bull City United logo, water bottles and T-shirts. 

Tammy Goodman lost her son, Charleston Goodman, to gang violence in 2018. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama

Tammy Goodman was one of the mothers present who did not address the crowd. She wore an orange sweatshirt with a photo of her son, Charleston Goodman, on the back.

Three years ago, 26-year-old Charleston Goodman was kidnapped outside of his home in East Woodcroft Parkway on Sunday January 28th, she said. He has not been found. In August 2019, his nine-year-old godson, Z’yon Person, was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. 

Sundays are difficult for Goodman and her family, she said before Sunday’s event began. And vigils are bittersweet. 

Even if she doesn’t speak, showing up to advocate against violence gives her motivation to get out of bed each morning, Goodman said. In late 2020, Goodman co-founded Guns Down, Hearts Up, an anti-violence group focused on raising awareness of gun violence and advocating for more political investment in the problem. 

“I’m turning pain into purpose,” said Goodman. “I know the pain would consume me if I wasn’t doing this.”

9th Street reporter Olivia Olsher can be reached at olivia.olsher@duke.edu

At top: Balloons rise from a violence-prevention vigil that members of Bull City United organized at McDougald Terrace last week. The star-shaped balloons were released to remember 40 people killed by gang- and gun-related violence in Durham in 2020. Photo by Sho Hatakeyama

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the date when Charleston Goodman was kidnapped.

City Council divided on best response to gun violence surge

Kenneccia Woolard was in her North Carolina Central University dorm room when she heard gunshots outside. Just as she was about to look out the window, a stray bullet shattered the glass and sent splinters flying. 

“I was just inches away of losing my life,” the visibly shaken student told City Council members on Oct. 8.

“I believe that we need an action plan immediately, because our campus is not safe from the residents and criminals that are surrounding our community,” Woolard said after describing the September incident. “I am facing this trauma each and every day, the anxiety, the fear.”

Woolard is one of a growing number of people demanding that Durham leaders take action to reduce rising gun violence, which has soared here over the last twelve months. As cities across the nation confront a rise in violent crime this year, Durham is facing a surge that is a stark reversal of a downward trend since 2017.

Stories of tragedies involving students, children, and elders are emerging from communities most vulnerable to daily gunfire, which residents say makes them afraid to go outside or sleep at night.

At the same virtual meeting where Woolard made her plea, NCCU Chancellor Johnson Akinleye emphasized the need for city leaders to act to reduce the dangers posed by gunfire. “Doing nothing at all is not an option,” Akinleye said.

City Council members agree a response is urgently needed. But they haven’t reached consensus on what to do, in part due to long-standing disagreements over policing.

Gangs, guns, coronavirus

Data makes clear that gun violence is surging in Durham. 

From Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020, 1,081 people were reported as victims of shootings. Police define victims as people close enough to be hit by a bullet, including people in rooms that bullets fly through. That figure is up 56% from 693 victims in the previous twelve month period.

The number of people shot in Durham has also soared 59% during the past twelve months to 221 people. One out of every six gunshot victims in Durham during that time was younger than under 18, including eight children under 12.

On a recent City Life broadcast, Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said city residents are increasingly encountering “random gunfire” coming from “neighborhood conflicts and individuals warring with each other” on city streets.

A collage of a fraction of Durham Police Department descriptions of shootings posted on Twitter this month.

Many of these conflicts are motivated by gang activity and are fought with weapons reported as stolen from legal gun owners, Davis said.

The pandemic is also playing a role. Jails are releasing inmates to reduce coronavirus exposure risks, children are at home rather than attending school in person, and some community programs that diverted teens from joining gangs have been paused, Davis said.

“This is just an environment that has allowed for various gangs in the city to wreak havoc,” Davis said.

Numbers don’t come close to conveying the scope of this problem, which disproportionately harms Black families and children, said City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton. He has made it a personal mission to try to reduce daily gun violence.

“We saw a major stakeholder in our city come forward saying, essentially, that this is a state of emergency,” Middleton said, referring to the statements from NCCU students and administrators.

City Council reacts with debates

Middleton supports five recommendations that Chancellor Akinleye presented to the City Council on Oct. 8. Fellow council members DeDreana Freeman and Pierce Freelon also voiced support for all of the initiatives during the meeting.

Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said she supported Akinleye’s request that NCCU police be allowed to patrol neighborhoods surrounding their East Durham campus. She said she wanted city staff to research and prepare a report on the other four recommendations.

Akinleye also urged the city to increase its own police patrols nearby and install speed bumps around campus, which is near neighborhoods the city has identified as hard-hit by violent crime.

The city should accept a six-month trial of ShotSpotter, an automated service that alerts police when shots are fired, something that residents who hear shots so often don’t always do, he said. Akinleye also pushed for the city to appoint an NCCU administrator to serve on the city’s new public safety task force.

The City Council rejected ShotSpotter in 2019 and again in September. Council members Javiera Caballero, Charlie Reece, Freelon, and Johnson cited the unclear evidence for its effectiveness and the $195,000 the city would need to pay each year.

They also said they were reluctant to embrace a tool they felt would lead the city to continue depending too much on police to solve problems. 

Middleton, a longtime backer of trying ShotSpotter, reiterated during an interview last week that the six-month trial would at least give the city valuable data for free. He also rejected the idea that ShotSpotter would lead to over-policing of already-vulnerable neighborhoods.

“We know that unreported gun violence is a problem,” he said. Refusing to invest in tools to measure the extent of that problem, he said, was “morally indefensible.”

For Mayor Pro Tem Johnson, solving the problem of gun violence means tackling deeper “root causes” in the community, rather than reflexively expanding the police. 

“There will be less violence in Durham if people can stay in their homes and not be evicted, if people can find jobs that are safe,” she said during an interview the day before the Oct. 8 meeting. “It’s not a lack of policing that causes our economic and social disruption.”

Johnson said she feared that continued job losses linked to economic disruption from the pandemic, a coming wave of evictions, and other problems caused by the pandemic will fuel an increase in crimes, like selling street drugs, that often turn violent. 

The city set aside $5 million for its COVID relief fund and poured another $1 million into Durham County’s housing and rent relief program. But Durham doesn’t have the scale of resources to offset residents’ financial distress, she said.

“What we really need, number one, is more federal support,” Johnson said. “We’ve been watching very closely the situation with the federal relief bills.”

In addition, City Council members haven’t taken a close enough look at alternatives to increased policing, she said. 

Johnson pointed to Bull City United, a “violence interrupter” program overseen by Durham County. Paused during the pandemic, the program trained workers to identify and defuse potentially violent conflicts in McDougald Terrace and the Southside neighborhood, two communities especially affected by gun violence.

“Those conversations need to continue,” she said.

Two Durham Police Department cruisers downtown with lights flashing. Photo by Henry Haggart

Tracking gangs, tracing guns

The police department is working to reduce the surge in gun violence by focusing on the gang members who are committing most of the shootings, Chief Davis said.

Officers are being trained to identify shooters linked to gangs, she said, adding that she wants her department to focus on tracking and stopping repeat offenders rather than “casting a wide net on communities.”

A serious challenge is the widespread availability of stolen guns used during violent conflicts, said Davis. She estimated that 40% of the guns recovered by her department were reported as stolen. 

The department is trying to educate gun owners on ways to store their weapons more securely, hoping to stem the flow of illegal firearms onto the streets.

Davis said she agrees that gun violence is a problem that requires more than a police response. Many of the people involved in violent conflicts are teenagers between 15 and 17, she said.

“There have to be other entities involved in helping to redirect our young people’s activities on a daily basis,” said Davis. She noted that officers are working on building relationships with residents by being more visible in communities, including by attending neighborhood events.

Programs in the works

City leaders are making plans, Johnson said, to develop and fund an expanded violence interrupter program run by the city, an initiative Middleton supports.

City staff are also analyzing 911 calls to identify tasks like responding to mental health crises that could be redirected to other city departments, freeing up police resources to address violent crime, Johnson said.

“The police department has a very specific mandate from council to focus their resources on violent crime,” she said.

The city is still working with the county and school board to launch the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force, a group of residents and researchers tasked with recommending alternatives to policing, which Johnson has said will be more successful at reducing violence compared to “reactive” tools like ShotSpotter.

“If we don’t deal with root cause issues, the need for police will actually increase,” she said.

But for Middleton, too much is at stake to not act more aggressively now while discussions about long-term interventions continue. 

“Every time somebody says root causes, I want somebody to point to our budget and say here’s a root-cause initiative, and here’s the amount of time it’s going to take for gun violence to come down in our city,” he said.

9th Street reporter Cameron Oglesby contributed to this article. 9th Street reporter Charlie Zong can be reached at charlie.zong@duke.edu

At top: Data shows a surge in overall shootings as well as gunshots between Oct. 2019 and Sept. 2020. Shooting victims increased by 56% to 1,081 people. The number of people shot increased even more by 59%, reaching 221 gunshot victims. Data provided by the Durham Police Department. Graphic by Charlie Zong

 

Tragic meets festive: Memorial to hundreds lost to gun violence joins Durham holiday parade

Sidney Brodie holds his iPhone to his mouth. “What is 103 times 8 minus 1?,” he asks.

“823,” Siri answers. 

Brodie and helpers have sewn 823 cloth squares onto his Durham Homicide and Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt. Each name, written in puffy paint, belongs to a person killed in Durham since 1994.

The Durham native and artist keeps track of the location of each name in a digital catalog. When asked for a number, he multiplies quilt columns by rows, subtracting any empty spots. 

“What is six times eight minus three?” he asks. “45,” the phone replies. 

Brodie pauses for a moment, sighs and locks his phone. So far this year he added 45 new names to the quilt. 

On Saturday Brodie’s quilt will appear at an unlikely place: the Durham Holiday Parade

Sidney Brodie with his quilt in his Durham studio. Photo by Cameron Beach

It was not his plan to join a festive event celebrating civic groups, marching bands and Santa Claus. 

But Brenda Young, whose son Edward was shot in 2017, asked for this. And Brodie could not say no.  

“It’s strictly about the families with me here for the parade,” he said. “I know this quilt means a lot to them.” 

Edward’s full name, Edward Young III, is painted onto a green square. His mother knows exactly where to look for it. 

Young said she was inspired to include the quilt at the polular event to remind families harmed by gun violence that others remember their loved ones. 

“My son is on the quilt. And it’s Christmas time. And I know everybody is in their feelings. I just wanted to give back to the community for the ones that lost their family to gun violence,” she said. 

Displaying the quilt publicly is recent for Brodie. His stitching began as a personal project after Shaquana Atwater, a toddler, was shot in 1994. Brodie learned she was struck in crossfire while playing outside her home while he was employed as a 911 operator in Durham.

For each victim, he adds a square to the eclectic colorful display, now more than 60 feet long. The quilt’s mix of colors and fabrics is intentionally random.

“I feel like each square is as unique and imperfect and as we are as people,” Brodie said during an interview in his small Durham studio. 

With simple details, Brodie tells a powerful narrative. Black buttons are visible on some squares. Each one marks the name of a child younger than 12. Included is 9-year-old Z’yon Person who was killed in August while riding in a car with his family. 

In one row, two black and white squares are nearly identical. They are a tribute to 10-month-old Ruia Reams and her mother Zhytila Wilkins who were killed in their home in January. “Baby” and “Mama” are painted alongside their names. 

“Quilts are tangible and functionally a quilt is a comforter. It’s doing that. It’s bringing comfort to these families,” Brodie said. 

Brodie removes the quilt’s black border to add more squares or to link it to other memorials when he brings it to vigils outside Durham. Photo by Cameron Beach

In a year when lethal gun violence is increasing in Durham, Young invited other family members of people named on the quilt to help carry it Saturday. She recruited members of the Southern High School football team, emerging anti-violence activists in town, too.

Edward Young played in the marching band at Southern High School, so when she asked them to help at the parade, it was a way to honor Edward’s legacy, she said. 

Young has been busy collecting donations and saving parts of her paycheck to purchase holiday-themed gloves, scarves and hats for the helpers.   

Bringing the quilt to a parade is a first, but Brodie’s designed it to tell multiple stories. White squares with black and white checkered ribbon, for instance, represent names listed out of chronological sequence. Brodie cut shirt cuffs and sewed buttoned pieces on top of the squares.

“The dates that I missed these people are all various dates throughout the years. They were at times in my life when I was going through personal things,” he said. “I chose cuffs to symbolize that these people slipped through my hands.” 

Brodie first displayed his quilt in 2017, after Kamari Munerlyn, age 7, was shot and killed on a drive home from a swimming pool. A vigil was held days later on the side of the road a police officer had tried to revive the child with CPR. 

Brodie stitched a yellow square with the boy’s name in blue and green onto the quilt during the vigil, while Munerlyn’s mother, father and grandmother watched. He got through it by wearing sunglasses on to hide his sorrow, he said.  

Young intends to lead the quilt procession Saturday, with Edward feeling nearby. As always, she’ll wear a heart-shaped necklace carrying Edward’s name inside.

“I’m ready. I’m so ready. This is something on my heart and that I want to,” she said. 

After the parade, Brodie will wrap his quilt in shrink wrap and take it back to his studio. These days he brings the quilt to vigils against gun violence elsewhere in North Carolina and out of state. 

Back in Durham, he is always prepared, regrettably, to add more names.

At top: Some of the more than 800 names on the Durham Homicide and Victims of Violent Death Memorial Quilt. Photo by Cameron Beach