By Mia Khatib
DURHAM — Community members, educators, and elected officials gathered at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church April 6 for a panel discussion on gun violence and prevention methods. The meeting was a joint effort between the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and the local NAACP chapter.
Panelists were Durham Sheriff Clarence Birkhead; L.A. Jones, co-founder of Hayti Reborn Justice Movement; Wanda Boone, founder and executive director of Together for Resilient Youth; and EMBC Pastor Cornelius Battle.
“If you go shopping, if you come to church, if you go to school, no matter where you are, there is a risk of being a victim of gun violence,” DCABP Chair Walter Jackson said. “I know of no imperative that is greater than the need to put a stop to that.”
Activist Jackie Wagstaff said being out in the community helping people is the only real way to solve the problem. Whenever there was a shooting before the pandemic, she said she and others would go to the crime site to comfort victims’ families and help however they could.
“You have to make yourself available to these young people out here,” she said. “We cannot continue to sit in these rooms and think that the problem is going to come to us. We have to go face it head on. We can’t be afraid of these streets.”
Tangela Kenan, co-founder of 5K Foundation, asked the panelists why, with around 4,000 local nonprofits, there isn’t much collaboration among Durham organizations. Boone responded that there’s a lack of trust between organizations, and Jones added that many of them don’t know what the other is up to because they each work alone.
“We experience a duplication of services. If we have 100 work readiness programs but only one housing program, that could not take care of our city,” Jones said. “It’s not sustainable.”
Ron Lewis, a retired behavioral health specialist, asked if it was true that the state passed legislation that no longer requires a permit to purchase a gun, and if the sheriff can implement anything to counter that locally.
Birkhead said it has been the sheriff’s job to approve gun permits for 150 years, but legislation passed last month repealed that. He said it is a travesty that the law was passed because the federal government does not do a good job of checking people’s backgrounds.
“Last year alone, I denied 130 gun permits that would have been approved at the federal level,” he said. “Now, you can walk into a store at age 21, that may change, and purchase a gun without too much difficulty.”
Person County resident David Brooks, whose son was killed by a Roxboro police officer, said mental health is a serious concern, and the majority of officers are good but choose to turn a blind eye to their comrades that are unfit for service. He asked Birkhead if there is anything he can do to change this.
Birkhead said Gov. Roy Cooper’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice has a model policy for duty to intervene and is working on passing additional legislation that is designed to keep unfit individuals out of uniform and “break down the barriers of false trust.” He also said they are making it tougher for officers to move from one agency to the next.
BJ Council, a former law enforcement officer, said unaddressed property crime leads to violent crime, and we need to identify people who are coming into the system for property crimes and make the resources that they need available then. Birkhead agreed and said property crimes are on the rise in Durham, with a majority of perpetrators between the ages of 13 and 25.
Torrey Green said he thinks older generations stopped caring for young people and became more concerned with youth sagging their pants than with what’s going on in their mind. He suggested implementing a conflict-resolution class in the school system to give young people the skills to work through issues.
“Let's make sure that we're very careful about how we treat these individuals,” Green said. “The new bullying is the kids that they know that carry guns. I hope that y’all know that it's not just their lunch money being taken anymore.”