WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (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 academic year has already been labeled one of the most concerning years in recent memory, with an increase in juvenile-related gun violence crimes.
Wednesday night, Northeast councilwoman Barbara Burke coordinated a town hall forum to allow families to ask law enforcement, school, and courthouse leaders ways that improvements can be made.
Councilwoman Burke told FOX8, “We are here to have a conversation, and hopefully that conversation will lead to actionable strategies that we can move forward and implement. There is no one solution.”
The forum also tracked ideas through four categories:
- Long-Term Strategies
- Short-Term Strategies
- Free Strategies
- Cost-needed Strategies
During the forum, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neil explained that the trend of gun violence that involves juveniles at this point in the year has him concerned for the Summer months.
“The fact is, these shootings, the overwhelming majority are being committed by juveniles. . . This when school is in session. We are approaching the summer months. There is not a person on this panel. We are all worried about this summer,” O’Neil said.
Winston-Salem Police Chief Katrina Thompson answered questions regarding the lack of visible patrol officers in parts of the city that are known to be “crime hangouts.”
She explained that her department is seeing an unprecedented drop in recruitment applications.
A few years ago, it was 2,500 per class, the chief explained. This year it is down to roughly 200, and only 15 of the 25 applicants that were taken will graduate, she explained.
Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough announced at Wednesday’s forum that, if approved, he will assign the 34 School Resource Officers to help the police department as needed, after the school year completes.
Other solutions that were discussed involved plugging young individuals, who are at-risk, with paying jobs.
“A lot of the violence is occurring because of hopelessness…lack of jobs…lack of opportunities,” Councilwoman Burke said.
“These kids want money. The gangs are giving them money. They don’t want a gym, they don’t want a basketball court. They want to be able to go out and buy basketball shoes,” Bishop Todd Fulton, a local community leader with Mount Moriah Outreach Center, said.
More of those solutions involved creating a file that has information and contacts for all of the local organizations available to help juveniles and their families, and funding for those local groups from funds allocated by the city or county, just to name a few.
A portion of the forum was also spent addressing ways for the community to help law enforcement solve the problem.
District Attorney O’Neil stressed that individuals need to speak up when there is a crime to help authorities get criminals off the street and behind bars. “If you see a crime being committed, people have got to speak up and report what they’ve seen. They’ve got to be able to go up on a witness stand and say what harm they’ve seen.”
A concerned citizen later asked what protections were in place to help protect those who speak out against violence but worry about retaliation. Winston-Salem PD has an anonymous way to report.
Former Forsyth County Judge Denise Heartsfielf explained that is easier said than done. “We need the boots on the ground. That voice is missing. When we go back to the whole, Witness, you have to call and leave your name. People have known for years that poor people and people of color don’t tell people nothing. It’s going to take some accountability, some accessibility to make that happen.”
Some families left the forum feeling more optimistic in the ways to address gun violence.
Mother Micah James, was not one of them.
Her son is a Mt. Tabor student, and she attended with her group, Our Opportunity to Love + Heal.
She said that she left feeling as if more time was spent on explaining why things were happening and not what can be done to fix them.
“I didn’t hear a lot of problem-solving ideas. More of the blame or where the responsibility lies. The main takeaway was from Fmr. Judge Heartsfild about community. We’ve got to get back to the community and be responsible for one another and taking care of one another.”